Number Crunch

Here are the numbers to keep in mind:

Number of Democrats in the House — 233
Number of votes needed to override a veto, if all members vote — 290
Number of Republican/Independent votes needed — 57

Number of Democrats in the Senate — 51
Number of votes needed to override a veto, if all members vote — 67
Number of Republican/Independent votes needed — 16

Of course, that’s assuming you get 100 percent of the Dems, which so far hasn’t happened on any of the Iraq votes in the House. In the Senate, Joe Lieberman is counted as a Dem to claim a Democratic majority and rights to committee chairs, but he votes with the Republicans regarding Iraq. He’s neither fish nor fowl, as they say. But we get Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on our side on Iraq, so let’s call it a wash.

The point is that in order to take the war away from President Bush a whole mess o’ Republicans must be persuaded to vote with the Dems — at least 67 House members and 16 senators, possibly more. But the only hope we have that troops will be deployed out of Iraq — indeed, that anything resembling a rational policy is applied to Iraq — before the Bush Administration ends is if there’s a big enough voting block to override a Bush veto. Even then Bush might well ignore the law, but let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.

President Bush is expected to veto the Iraq Accountability Act early this week. It’s not clear to me what Congress might do next. Whatever happens, I expect the Dems to continue to butt heads with Bush over the war. The question is, when will more Republicans join them?

Doyle McManus writes for the Los Angeles Times that this Iraq War bill is only a prelude.

To buy time for his buildup of more than 28,000 troops to show results, Bush asked his commander in Iraq, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, to deliver a progress report to the nation in early September.

That helped stave off Republican defections as Congress debated whether to impose a timetable for troop withdrawals. But it also established September as a deadline for clearer military and political progress in Iraq, a tactical concession for a White House that long has refused to accept any benchmarks or timetables for evaluating the war, now 4 years old.

Democratic and Republican members of Congress already are focusing on September as their next major decision point on the war — planning hearings to debate Petraeus’ findings and, in the Democrats’ case, promising new attempts to force Bush to withdraw troops.

By September, the troop buildup will have been underway for more than six months. Unless there is dramatic improvement in Iraq, public support for the war will probably have eroded further. And by September, skittish Republicans will be four months closer to starting their reelection campaigns.

At the moment, at least 17 Republican senators are expected to run for re-election in 2008. There are three more sitting Republican senators whose terms expire in 2009 but who might retire. Among those 20 are the two Republicans who voted with the Dems on the Iraq Accountability Act, Gordon Smith of Oregon and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

And, of course, all members of the House face re-election in 2008.

Doyle McManus continues,

GOP leaders warn that they will need dramatic evidence of progress — something that has been in short supply in Iraq — to maintain support for the war.

“We need to get some better results from Iraq both politically, economically and militarily, and that needs to happen in the foreseeable future,” said House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a Bush administration loyalist.

Several moderate Republicans have warned that they are preparing to switch sides unless the troop “surge” shows results.

“If the president’s new strategy does not demonstrate significant results by August, then Congress should consider all options — including a redefinition of our mission and a gradual but significant withdrawal of our troops next year,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who last week voted against the withdrawal bill.

Even the most optimistic of the generals do not expect significant results by August.

“There is a lot of frustration with the administration on the Republican side,” said one GOP House member who has voted against every Democratic measure on Iraq but asked not to be quoted by name to avoid angering the White House.

This tells us how sick our government has become. Even a congressman is afraid to speak on the record against the Regime. There cannot be a representative, democratic government if the peoples’ representatives are intimidated by the executive branch.

If Bush follows through on his veto threat, senior Democratic lawmakers have said they will pass an emergency funding bill that does not include the withdrawal timelines the president has complained so vociferously about.

Such a measure, however, almost certainly would include readiness standards for the strained military. It would also outline benchmarks the Iraqi government must meet to demonstrate progress in reconciling differences between the country’s sectarian communities.

The administration opposes benchmarks that would impose penalties on Iraq if it does not meet them on time.

“To begin now to tie our own hands and to say, ‘We must do this if they don’t do that,’ doesn’t allow us the flexibility and creativity that we need to move this forward,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

But benchmarks have gained support among Republicans who voice increasing frustration over the Iraqi government’s failure to complete long-promised political reforms: a new law apportioning the country’s oil revenue, a relaxation of rules banning members of the overthrown Baath Party from government jobs, and elections to set up provincial governments.

“We’ve got to get [more] aggressive on pushing the political solution,” Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), a supporter of the war, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “We’ve got to push them very hard. And our timelines, I think, are very short…. I don’t know if [September] is the time to set, but I don’t think we have infinite time.”

I expected more Republicans to have broken with Bush by now. But I agree with McManus that the point of the “surge” was to buy time for the administration. Republicans facing reelection in 2008 may not want to run in the general election as supporters of the Iraq War, but neither do they want to alienate their right-wing base. And the base doesn’t want to hear anything about the war that doesn’t include the words winning and victory. So Republicans are boxed in. I fully expect Bush to trot out some other phony Iraq initiative when he comes back from the August vacation, in the hopes it will keep Republicans in Congress in line and buy him a few more months.

But Republicans running for reelection in 2008 do not have infinite time. If they can’t defuse Iraq as an issue before serious campaigning begins next year, it’s going to cost many of them their seats. Surely they know this.

I want to end the war in Iraq as quickly as possible. However, the big immovable object in the way of that goal is the POTUS. We can holler all we want about defunding the war or impeaching the POTUS, but the reality is that the only body with legal authority to kick Bush out of the way is Congress. And nothing meaningful will happen in Congress until at least 16 Republican senators and 57 Republican House members support it. IMO antiwar activists need to stop bellyaching about Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and get to work on Republicans.

The following Republican incumbent senators must win reelection in 2008 if they hope to serve another term.* Not all of them will change their votes, so we’ll need a few Republican senators not on this list. I’m just saying these are the senators with the most reason to be nervous.

Lamar Alexander of Tennessee
Saxby Chambliss of Georgia
Thad Cochran of Mississippi
Norm Coleman of Minnesota
Susan Collins of Maine
John Cornyn of Texas
Larry Craig of Idaho
Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina
Pete Domenici of New Mexico
Michael Enzi of Wyoming
Lindsey Graham of South Carolina
Chuck Hagel of Nebraska**
Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma
Mitch McConnell of Kentucky
Pat Roberts of Kansas
Jeff Sessions of Alabama
Gordon Smith of Oregon**
Ted Stevens of Alaska
John Sununu of New Hampshire
John Warner of Virginia

*The term of Wayne Allard of Colorado is also ending, but he has announced his retirement.
** Already voting with the Dems.

The White House is making noises about rejecting legislation that requires the Iraqi government to meet benchmarks, even if there are no timetables. If Reid and Pelosi think they could patch together a veto-proof majority for such a bill, it might be worthwhile to pass it. Baby steps are better than no steps.

Update, sorta related: Maliki’s Office Is Seen Behind Purge in Forces.

Update2: William F. Buckley: “There are grounds for wondering whether the Republican party will survive this dilemma.”

Everything Old Is News Again

We’re having Boiling Rice day at The Mahablog. In the last post we discussed how millions of dollars of aid for New Orleans was wasted because the Secretary of State was too busy shopping for shoes to do her job. Now let’s continue the further adventures of the worst National Security Adviser/Secretary of State ever.

In his new book George Tenet allegedly claims that he told then-National Security Adviser Rice in July 2001 of an “urgent threat” from al Qaeda. Further, he says he said “We need to consider immediate action inside Afghanistan now. We need to move to the offensive.”

Faiz at Think Progress writes that today,

On CBS’s Face the Nation, a perplexed and stunned Rice said, “The idea of launching preemptive strikes into Afghanistan in July of 2001, this is a new fact.” Rice then said, “I don’t know what we were supposed to preemptively strike in Afghanistan. Perhaps somebody can ask that.”

That there was such a briefing given to Condi in July 2001 is not news. In fact, I think this is about the third time around for this “revelation.” The last time the July 2001 meeting made news was last fall, when Bob Woodward’s book State of Denial hit the shelves. Woodward described a presentation made by George Tenet and Cofer Black on July 10 that warned of an imminent al Qaeda attack, possibly on U.S. soil. Rice, who failed to follow up on this information, denied then that such a meeting took place. But White House records revealed the meeting did take place.

And then, when the record proved there had been a meeting, Condi claimed she had been given no warning of an attack within the United States. But on the October 2, 2006 Countdown, Roger Cressey told Keith Olbermann that he had seen the same Tenet-Black presentation that was shown to Condi Rice on July 10, and Cressey confirmed that the presentation was mostly an explicit warning that al Qaeda was about to carry out a major terrorist attack, very possibly in the U.S. In 2001 Cressey was the National Security Council staff director at the time. From the transcript:

OLBERMANN: My first question, you‘re now consulting within a firm with Richard Clarke, who was at that meeting on July 10, on the central question of whether Rice was warned then of an attack on the U.S. Do we know who‘s right here, Woodward or Secretary Rice?

CRESSEY: Yes, she was warned. I mean, there was a meeting. It was George Tenet, Dick Clarke, another individual from the agency, Cofer Black, and Steve Hadley. And what it was, Keith, was a briefing for Dr. Rice that was similar to a briefing the CIA gave to us in the situation room about a week before, laying out the information, the intelligence, laying out the sense of urgency. And it was pretty much given to Dr. Rice and Steve Hadley in pretty stark terms.

OLBERMANN: The $500 million Cofer Black action plan against bin Laden, would have read like crazy talk if that had been presented to her as Woodward describes it?

CRESSEY: Not crazy talk, but because in some respects, that‘s what we did after 9/11, although, as much as I love and respect Cofer, I don‘t think we would have been able to bring his head back in a box then, because, frankly, all the CIA sources in Afghanistan stunk, and that was part of the problem.

But that type of aggressive, robust covert action is ultimately what was implemented after 9/11.

The “$500 million Cofer Black action plan against bin Laden” is, I believe, the famous plans to go into Afghanistan and take out bin Laden and other al Qaeda leadership that had been handed off to the Bushies by the Clinton Administration. My understanding is that this plan was put together after the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in October 2000. The Clinton Administration didn’t carry out the plan because the intelligence guys did not confirm that al Qaeda was behind the Cole attack until right after the Bush II inauguration in January 2001. In spite of impassioned pleas by Richard Clarke and others to step it up, the Bushies took their sweet time circulating the plan. The plan finally hit President Bush’s desk on September 10, 2001.

I’ve written about this before, such as here. This same issue has come up periodically since the spring of 2002, and every time Condi denies ever having heard of it. As I understand it, the plan involved a lot of covert special ops stuff in cooperation with the Northern Alliance — pretty much what the initial action in Afghanistan looked like.

Via Think Progress, here’s a snip of the 9/11 Commission Report:

As the Clinton administration drew to a close, Clarke and his staff developed a policy paper of their own [which] incorporated the CIA’s new ideas from the Blue Sky memo, and posed several near-term policy options. … A sentence called for military action to destroy al Qaeda command-and control targets and infrastructure and Taliban military and command assets. The paper also expressed concern about the presence of al Qaeda operatives in the United States.” [p. 197]

Since “al Qaeda command-and control targets and infrastructure and Taliban military and command assets” were mostly in Afghanistan, one might conclude that’s where the military action was to take place.

This business about the preemptive strike into Afghanistan isn’t news. Richard Clarke wrote about it; Bob Woodward wrote about it. Bleeping Al Franken wrote about it. I’m sure I knew about it by 2002, because I remember reading about it in Time and Newsweek. Yet this is the first Condi has heard of it. Amazing.

Just for fun: Here’s Dan Froomkin, October 2, 2006, while Condi was still denying the July 10 meeting had taken place —

On Sunday, White House counselor Dan Bartlett issued a new rebuttal on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” Here’s the video ; here’s the transcript .

Speaking for Rice, Bartlett said: “I spoke to her this morning. She believes this is a very grossly mis-accurate characterization of the meeting they had.”

Stephanopoulos: “So this didn’t happen?”

And here’s the money quote from Bartlett: “That’s Secretary Rice’s view, that that type of urgent request to go after bin Laden, as the book alleges, in her mind, didn’t happen.”

Get that? In her mind, it didn’t happen.

One wonders what does happen in Condi’s mind.

Waste and Fraud, Inc.

These are the stories that embolden our enemies — John Solomon and Spencer S. Hsu write in today’s Washington Post that our government turned down “offers of manpower, supplies and expertise worth untold millions of dollars” from other nations after the Katrina disaster. And much of what wasn’t turned down, was wasted.

Eventually the United States also would fail to collect most of the unprecedented outpouring of international cash assistance for Katrina’s victims.

Allies offered $854 million in cash and in oil that was to be sold for cash. But only $40 million has been used so far for disaster victims or reconstruction, according to U.S. officials and contractors. Most of the aid went uncollected, including $400 million worth of oil. Some offers were withdrawn or redirected to private groups such as the Red Cross. The rest has been delayed by red tape and bureaucratic limits on how it can be spent.

In addition, valuable supplies and services — such as cellphone systems, medicine and cruise ships — were delayed or declined because the government could not handle them. In some cases, supplies were wasted.

The struggle to apply foreign aid in the aftermath of the hurricane, which has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $125 billion so far, is another reminder of the federal government’s difficulty leading the recovery. Reports of government waste and delays or denials of assistance have surfaced repeatedly since hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck in 2005.

Let’s see — I dimly remember that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was put in charge of coordinating assistance coming from other countries — yes, here we are: The Associated Press, September 1, 2005:

With offers from the four corners of the globe pouring in, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has decided “no offer that can help alleviate the suffering of the people in the afflicted area will be refused,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Thursday.

According to the Think Progress Katrina Timeline, on September 1 — the same day this news story was released — Condi Rice was at a tennis match. “Rice, [in New York] on three days’ vacation to shop and see the U.S. Open, hitting some balls with retired champ Monica Seles at the Indoor Tennis Club at Grand Central.” [New York Post]. She was also seen shopping for shoes —

“Just moments ago at the Ferragamo on 5th Avenue, Condoleeza Rice was seen spending several thousands of dollars on some nice, new shoes (we’ve confirmed this, so her new heels will surely get coverage from the WaPo’s Robin Givhan). A fellow shopper, unable to fathom the absurdity of Rice’s timing, went up to the Secretary and reportedly shouted, ‘How dare you shop for shoes while thousands are dying and homeless!’” [Gawker]

Those were some damn expensive shoes.

By September 2 Condi managed to release a statement thanking the international community for its its “offers to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.”

Rice said every contribution is important and that over the past few days she has been in contact with a wide range of officials from other nations and international organizations to respond to the offers of support. The State Department, she said, is coordinating closely with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to match these offers of support with the needs “on the ground.“

Let’s go back to the WaPo article to see what happened on September 3.

In another instance, the Department of Homeland Security accepted an offer from Greece on Sept. 3, 2005, to dispatch two cruise ships that could be used free as hotels or hospitals for displaced residents. The deal was rescinded Sept. 15 after it became clear a ship would not arrive before Oct. 10. The U.S. eventually paid $249 million to use Carnival Cruise Lines vessels.

And while television sets worldwide showed images of New Orleans residents begging to be rescued from rooftops as floodwaters rose, U.S. officials turned down countless offers of allied troops and search-and-rescue teams. The most common responses: “sent letter of thanks” and “will keep offer on hand,” the new documents show.

Overall, the United States declined 54 of 77 recorded aid offers from three of its staunchest allies: Canada, Britain and Israel, according to a 40-page State Department table of the offers that had been received as of January 2006.

You’ll get a kick out of this bit:

In one exchange, State Department officials anguished over whether to tell Italy that its shipments of medicine, gauze and other medical supplies spoiled in the elements for weeks after Katrina’s landfall on Aug. 29, 2005, and were destroyed. “Tell them we blew it,” one disgusted official wrote. But she hedged: “The flip side is just to dispose of it and not come clean. I could be persuaded.”

Sometimes the foreign governments read about the waste in the newspapers. Ryan Parry reported in the Mirror (UK) that millions of dollars worth of rations got caught up in red tape and wasted.

Instead tons of the badly needed NATO ration packs, the same as those eaten by British troops in Iraq, has been condemned as unfit for human consumption.

And unless the bureaucratic mess is cleared up soon it could be sent for incineration.

One British aid worker last night called the move “sickening senselessness” and said furious colleagues were “spitting blood”.

The food, which cost British taxpayers millions, is sitting idle in a huge warehouse after the Food and Drug Agency recalled it when it had already left to be distributed.

Scores of lorries headed back to a warehouse in Little Rock, Arkansas, to dump it at an FDA incineration plant.

This is coming out now because a group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) obtained documentation — cables, emails and letters — through the Freedom of Information Act and painstakingly put them together. You can read some of the documents they gathered on the CREW web site.

The WaPo article truly is jaw dropping. The U.S. received offers of cash from 150 nations and foreign organizations totaling $454 million, but our government managed to collect only $126 million. In many cases the foreign governments eventually gave up trying to give money to the State Department and handed it to the Red Cross instead. But then Kuwait sent $400 million worth of oil, thinking we could use it because of damage to refineries, but the U.S. sold the oil for cash. Millions of dollars allocated to public schools and state colleges have yet to be used. I infer that many of these delays are as much the fault of state governments as the federal government. But then there’s this:

The first concrete program officials announced in October 2005 — a $66 million contract to a consortium of 10 faith-based and charity groups to provide social services to displaced families — so far has assisted less than half the 100,000 victims it promised to help, the project director said.

The group, led by the United Methodist Committee on Relief, has spent $30 million of the money it was given to aid about 45,000 evacuees. Senate investigators are questioning some terms in the contract proposal, including a provision to pay consultants for 450 days to train volunteers for the work the committee was paid to do.

Jim Cox, the program director, said that the project is “right on track” but that its strategy of relying on volunteers foundered because of burnout and high turnover. He acknowledged that more people need help than are receiving it and said the program will be extended to March to use available funds.

You’d think that with $66 million they could have paid people to do the work that was needed rather than ask for volunteers. Come to think of it, paying local people who had lost jobs might have been part of the program. It’s one thing to ask volunteers to come in for a weekend to lick stamps or man the soup line. But where do you find people who can afford to put in long hours for weeks or months without getting paid?

Put another way, what planet do these people live on?

But WaPo‘s article is not the only one in the papers today about gawd-awful wastes of U.S. taxpayer dollars. James Glanz of the New York Times describes similar wastes on the other side of the world, in Iraq.

In a troubling sign for the American-financed rebuilding program in Iraq, inspectors for a federal oversight agency have found that in a sampling of eight projects that the United States had declared successes, seven were no longer operating as designed because of plumbing and electrical failures, lack of proper maintenance, apparent looting and expensive equipment that lay idle.

The United States has previously admitted, sometimes under pressure from federal inspectors, that some of its reconstruction projects have been abandoned, delayed or poorly constructed. But this is the first time inspectors have found that projects officially declared a success — in some cases, as little as six months before the latest inspections — were no longer working properly.

The article goes on to describe airports, hospitals, water refineries, and other vital facilities newly built by our tax dollars that are already falling into ruin. And note that this group only inspected facilities in the relatively safe areas. In several cases expensive equipment and facilities were never used by the Iraqis, apparently because the equipment and facilities were not what they wanted. Often the equipment and facilities were considerably different from what the Iraqis had before, and they were turned over to Iraqis without instruction or funds for maintenance.

“What ultimately makes any project sustainable is local ownership from the beginning in designing the project, establishing the priorities,” Mr. Barton said. “If you don’t have those elements it’s an extension of colonialism and generally it’s resented.”

Mr. Barton, who has closely monitored reconstruction efforts in Iraq and other countries, said the American rebuilding program had too often created that resentment by imposing projects on Iraqis or relying solely on the advice of a local tribal chief or some “self-appointed representative” of local Iraqis.

In one example, a hospital was built with a sophisticated system for delivering oxygen. But the Iraqi medical staff didn’t trust the system and continued to use oxygen tanks, as they had before.

In other words, the plans for this hospital were drawn up by American companies (the article doesn’t name the contractors, but we know who they are, don’t we?), approved in Washington, and no one thought to sit down with the Iraqi doctors and hospital administrators to find out what they wanted.

There’s incompetence, of course. But there’s also arrogance. The way Bushies deal with Iraq and New Orleans reminds me of those 19th-century white missionaries who traveled far to bring the blessings of civilizations and Christianity to simple brown natives everywhere, and in doing so opened the way to wholesale plundering of whatever the simple brown natives had that white people wanted. Colonialism, paternalism, racism — it’s all there.

Expecting months of work to be done by volunteers is a case in point. Think about it; the faith-based charities who got $66 million paid money to consultants but not to workers. Their notion was that there would be lots of well-to-do people who don’t need jobs and wages who would volunteer to take care of people who do need jobs and wages — they’d probably prefer jobs and wages to handouts, I bet — after which the well-to-do could retire to their country clubs and complain that those people are too lazy to help themselves. Except this time there weren’t enough wealthy altruists to go around. Meanwhile, millions of tax dollars are quietly pocketed by contractors and consultants who deliver remarkably little in value for what they are paid.

Why did it not even occur to anyone in the Bush Administration or the faith-based charities to set up WPA-style programs and pay the jobless and dislocated people of New Orleans to do the relief and reconstruction work that needed doing? And why did it not even occur to the Bushies and their contractors to talk to Iraqi doctors what they wanted in their hospitals before they started building?

I’m sure a big part of the answer is that the Bushies see “projects” like Iraq and the Gulf Coast primarily as opportunities for rewarding corporate donors. What people actually need is way down the priority list.

I could go on, but I think I will flop about and sputter helplessly for a while.

More Jokes

Nico of Think Progress:

Former U.S. AID director Randall Tobias, who resigned yesterday upon admitting that he frequented a Washington escort service, oversaw a controversial policy advocated by the religious right that required any US-based group receiving anti-AIDS funds to take an anti-prostitution “loyalty oath.”

Aid groups bitterly opposed the policy, charging that it “was so broad — and applied even to their private funds — that it would obstruct their outreach to sex workers who are at high risk of transmitting the AIDS virus.” But President Bush wouldn’t budge. He signed a 2003 National Security Presidential Directive saying prostitution “and related activities” were “inherently harmful and dehumanizing.”

Several groups and countries had their funding cut due to the policy. Brazil lost $40 million for “one of its most successful anti-AIDS strategies, persuading sex workers to use condoms or other measures to stop spreading the disease.”

The Bush Administration refuses to give funds to any organization that teaches negotiating tactics or provides condoms to sex workers, even if U.S. funds are not used for those purposes.

Nico continues,

During an “Ask the White House” online chat in 2004, Tobias defended the policy, saying the U.S. was “partnering with communities” to begin “fighting sex trafficking and prostitution, while still serving victims of these activities.” Tobias added that he was overseeing several “highly successful” relationship programs “aimed at men and boys to help them develop healthy relationships with women.”

A truly inspired idea, having someone who pays for “gals come over to the condo to give me a massage” run programs on developing “healthy relationships with women.”

So typical.

Odom to Bush: Sign It

The chief commander on the ground in Iraq is less than optimistic. Ewen MacAskill reports for The Guardian:

The top US commander in Iraq admitted yesterday that the conflict would “get harder before it gets easier”, providing further ammunition for Democrats determined to face down George Bush in their constitutional clash over the Iraq war.
Hours before the Senate passed legislation ordering troops to start leaving Iraq by October, General David Petraeus said the conflict was “the most complex and challenging I have ever seen”. Gen Petraeus, who was put in charge of the Baghdad troop “surge” to pacify the Iraqi capital, warned of the enormous commitment and sacrifice facing the US in Iraq.

His downbeat assessment, in contrast with Mr Bush’s optimistic statements, stiffened the resolve of Democrats in Congress pushing for an early withdrawal of US troops. Yesterday the Senate followed the House of Representatives in backing legislation that calls for most US troops to be out by spring 2008.

Did Gen Petraeus’s downbeat assessment appear in American news media? I don’t believe I’ve seen it.

Petraeus was in Washington this past week to brief senators and congressmen on the current situation on the ground in Iraq. He was supposed to be shoring up support for the war, but it seems he wasn’t entirely successful. David Sanger reports for the New York Times that even the White House seems more cautious.

The Bush administration will not try to assess whether the troop increase in Iraq is producing signs of political progress or greater security until September, and many of Mr. Bush’s top advisers now anticipate that any gains by then will be limited, according to senior administration officials.

In interviews over the past week, the officials made clear that the White House is gradually scaling back its expectations for the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. The timelines they are now discussing suggest that the White House may maintain the increased numbers of American troops in Iraq well into next year.

That prospect would entail a dramatically longer commitment of frontline troops, patrolling the most dangerous neighborhoods of Baghdad, than the one envisioned in legislation that passed the House and Senate this week. That vote, largely symbolic because Democrats do not have the votes to override the promised presidential veto, set deadlines that would lead to the withdrawal of combat troops by the end of March 2008.

Gen. Petraeus said of Mr. Malaki, “He’s not the Prime Minister Tony Blair of Iraq.” Make of that what you will.

Meanwhile, retired Army Lt. Gen. William Odom says President Bush should sign the funding bill that Congress just passed. Kasie Hunt reports for the Associated Press (emphasis added):

“I hope the president seizes this moment for a basic change in course and signs the bill Congress has sent him,” Odom said, delivering the Democrats’ weekly radio address….

… The general accused Bush of squandering U.S. lives and helping Iran and al-Qaida when he invaded Iraq.

The challenge we face today is not how to win in Iraq; it is how to recover from a strategic mistake: invading Iraq in the first place,” he said. “The president has let (the Iraq war) proceed on automatic pilot, making no corrections in the face of accumulating evidence that his strategy is failing and cannot be rescued. He lets the United States fly further and further into trouble, squandering its influence, money and blood, facilitating the gains of our enemies.”

Odom said he doesn’t favor congressional involvement in the execution of foreign and military policy, but argued that Bush had been derelict in his responsibilities. This week Congress passed an Iraq war spending bill that would require Bush to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq on Oct. 1.

Gen. Odom was Director of the National Security Agency during the Reagan Administration, among other things.

Update: This is from

What Military Experts Are Saying about the Supplemental and the President’s Plan to Veto It

“This bill gives General Petraeus great leverage for moving the Iraqi government down the more disciplined path laid out by the Iraq Study Group. The real audience for the timeline language is Prime Minister al-Maliki and the elected government of Iraq. The argument that this bill aides the enemy is simply not mature – nobody on the earth underestimates the United States’ capacity for unpredictability. It may further create some sense of urgency in the rest of our government, beginning with the State Department.”

–Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, USA, Ret.

“The bill gives the president a chance to pull back from a disastrous course, re-orient US strategy to achieve regional stability, and win help from many other countries — the only way peace will eventually be achieved.”

–LT GEN Wm. E. Odom, USA, Ret.

“Supporting the Iraq Supplemental Bill not only reflects the thinking of the Iraq Study Group but puts teeth to the phrase “Supporting the Troops”. By establishing timelines it returns the responsibility of self preservation and regional sovereignty to the people of Iraq and their government.”

–Maj. Gen. Mel Montano, USANG, Ret

“This important legislation sets a new direction for Iraq. It acknowledges that America went to war without mobilizing the nation, that our strategy in Iraq has been tragically flawed since the invasion in March 2003, that our Army and Marine Corps are at the breaking point with little to show for it, and that our military alone will never establish representative government in Iraq. The administration got it terribly wrong and I applaud our Congress for stepping up to their constitutional responsibilities.”

–Maj. Gen. John Batiste, USA, Ret.

“We must commence a coordinated phased withdrawal of U.S. combat troops and condition our continuing support of the Iraqi government on its fulfilling the political commitments it has made to facilitate reconciliation of the contending secular factions. Otherwise, we will continue to be entwined in a hopeless quagmire, with continuing American casualties, which will render our ground forces ineffective.”

–Lt. Gen. Robert Gard, USA Ret.

Let’s Find the Joke

Is Rush Limbaugh about to have a Don Imus moment? Apparently Rush presented a little parody ditty called “Barack the Magic Negro”” on his radio show last month, and some of his own staff are fomenting mutiny over it.

The song ostensibly was inspired by this David Ehrenstein op ed in the Los Angeles Times, wherein the fabulous David E (who is African American) writes about how whites perceive Barack Obama. The Rush parody, unfortunately, has an entirely different point to it.

According to this site, in its most recent video incarnation the song (titled “U Da Real Negro Al, Screw Obama”) is performed by Paul Shanklin, a conservative political satirist, who tries to imitate the Rev. Mr. Sharpton’s voice. The video includes a slideshow of images of Sharpton and Barack pointing out the differences in their “blackness.” The song alleges that Barack Obama is not a “real” black man, which was not David Ehrenstein’s point at all.

The term “magic negro” (or “magical negro,” and other variations), refers to a stock character of (white) fiction — a benevolent African American who drops into the plot Deus ex machina-style to counsel and redeem the struggling white main character. Rita Kempley explained the “magic negro” in 2003:

Morgan Freeman plays God in “Bruce Almighty;” Laurence Fishburne a demigod in “The Matrix Reloaded,” and Queen Latifah a ghetto goddess in “Bringing Down the House. ”

What’s the deal with the holy roles?

Every one of the actors has to help a white guy find his soul or there won’t be a happy ending. Bruce (Jim Carrey) won’t get the girl. Neo (Keanu Reeves) won’t become the next Messiah. And klutzy guy Peter (Steve Martin) won’t get his groove on.

In movie circles, this figure is known as a “magic Negro,” a term that dates back to the late 1950s, around the time Sidney Poitier sacrifices himself to save Tony Curtis in “The Defiant Ones.” Spike Lee, who satirizes the stereotype in 2000’s “Bamboozled,” goes even further and denounces the stereotype as the “super-duper magical Negro.” …

… Historically, if a black person is thrust into a white universe, it is inevitable that the white people will become a better person,” says Thomas Cripps, author of “Making Movies Black: The Hollywood Message Movie from World War II to the Civil Rights Era” and other books on African American cinema. “Sidney Poitier spent his whole career in this position. Sidney actually carried the cross for Jesus in ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told.'”

See also “Stephen King’s Super-Duper Magical Negroes” by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, written October 2004:

The archetype of the Magical Negro is an issue of race. It is the subordination of a minority figure masked as the empowerment of one. The Magical Negro has great power and wisdom, yet he or she only uses it to help the white main character; he or she is not threatening because he or she only seeks to help, never hurt. The white main character’s well-being comes before the Magical Negro’s because the main character is of more value, more importance.

I think it’s debatable whether presidential candidate Obama neatly falls into this stereotype. On the other hand, I do think there’s truth in the observation that white Americans are more, shall we say, comfortable with some African Americans than others; Colin Powell also comes to mind. This underscores the point that “race” is as much a social construct as anything else, but this is a huge topic I don’t have the energy to dive into right now. Some other time, maybe.

In his Los Angeles Times op ed, David Ehrenstein elaborates:

And what does the white man get out of the bargain? That’s a question asked by John Guare in “Six Degrees of Separation,” his brilliant retelling of the true saga of David Hampton — a young, personable gay con man who in the 1980s passed himself off as the son of none other than the real Sidney Poitier. Though he started small, using the ruse to get into Studio 54, Hampton discovered that countless gullible, well-heeled New Yorkers, vulnerable to the Magic Negro myth, were only too eager to believe in his baroque fantasy. (One of the few who wasn’t fooled was Andy Warhol, who was astonished his underlings believed Hampton’s whoppers. Clearly Warhol had no need for the accoutrement of interracial “goodwill.”)

But the same can’t be said of most white Americans, whose desire for a noble, healing Negro hasn’t faded. That’s where Obama comes in: as Poitier’s “real” fake son.

The senator’s famously stem-winding stump speeches have been drawing huge crowds to hear him talk of uniting rather than dividing. A praiseworthy goal. Consequently, even the mild criticisms thrown his way have been waved away, “magically.” He used to smoke, but now he doesn’t; he racked up a bunch of delinquent parking tickets, but he paid them all back with an apology. And hey, is looking good in a bathing suit a bad thing?

The only mud that momentarily stuck was criticism (white and black alike) concerning Obama’s alleged “inauthenticity,” as compared to such sterling examples of “genuine” blackness as Al Sharpton and Snoop Dogg. Speaking as an African American whose last name has led to his racial “credentials” being challenged — often several times a day — I know how pesky this sort of thing can be.

Obama’s fame right now has little to do with his political record or what he’s written in his two (count ’em) books, or even what he’s actually said in those stem-winders. It’s the way he’s said it that counts the most. It’s his manner, which, as presidential hopeful Sen. Joe Biden ham-fistedly reminded us, is “articulate.” His tone is always genial, his voice warm and unthreatening, and he hasn’t called his opponents names (despite being baited by the media).

Like a comic-book superhero, Obama is there to help, out of the sheer goodness of a heart we need not know or understand. For as with all Magic Negroes, the less real he seems, the more desirable he becomes. If he were real, white America couldn’t project all its fantasies of curative black benevolence on him.

This is too nuanced for righties, I realize, but you see that David isn’t writing about whether Barack Obama is inherently “black” enough, but rather about how he is perceived by whites. David says himself, “Speaking as an African American whose last name has led to his racial ‘credentials’ being challenged — often several times a day — I know how pesky this sort of thing can be.” His line about “Obama’s alleged ‘inauthenticity,’ as compared to such sterling examples of ‘genuine’ blackness as Al Sharpton and Snoop Dogg” was, as I read it, intended to ridicule people who make such comparisons. (Like Rush Limbaugh.)

When David’s column was published, a number of righties wallowed in feigned outrage over it. This blogger and his commenters oozed disgust at the racism of “White liberal elitists.” (I actually read through this muck; not one of them appears to have even a glimmer of what David’s op ed actually said.) “And is LIBERAL David Ehrenstein who coined ‘Magic Negro’ as a description for Barack Obama still writing for the L.A. Times?” writes this dimbulb.

I’ve been googling around trying to find the “lyrics” to the Rush parody song so that you don’t have to suffer through actually watching the putrid video. I had no luck, but Greg Sargent provides a description:

Let’s start with a particularly lovely Rush/Shanklin special. It has a voice parodying an Al Sharpton who is so illiterate that he spells the word “respect” like this: “r-e-s-p-e-c-k.” Here’s a transcript of the relevant bit, where the Sharpton stand-in is standing outside Barack Obama headquarters asking Obama for attention by singing the following lyrics to the tune of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”:

    “R-E-S-P-E-C-K. Wha-choo mean it ain’t spelt that way? R-E-S-P-E-K-T? I need a dictionary!”

There’s more. As Media Matters reported the other day, Rush sang the ditty “Barack the Magic Negro” on his show on March 19, basing the lyrics on an L.A. Times Op-ed piece. But it gets better.

Now Rush is running a new, improved version of the “Magic Negro” song that’s way more fleshed out — and way, way, more eye-opening, too. It features a parody of Sharpton singing about “da hood” and saying that Obama is “ar-ti-coo-late.” Just give it a listen, it’s hard to describe how low it is.

There are also routines where the Sharpton stand-in insults Obama by saying “yo mama’s so fat” and so forth, as well as one where Sharpton demands that Obama explain himself to the “commooonity.”

The only racist slam Rush and Shanklin left out were watermelon jokes.

More Jokes:

Go see Bob Geiger’s Saturday cartoons. Read also about the senior Bush Administration official and former AIDS czar who resigned after his patronage of an “escort” service was uncovered.

Update: Garance has more:

There’s a big difference between a conservative Southern white man — in this case, Rush’s regular contributor Paul Shanklin, from Tennessee — doing these kinds of parodies of Al Sharpton and Barack Obama and, say, Kenan Thompson’s affectionate parodies on SNL. In addition to “Barack the Magic Negro,” Shanklin is also responsible for such tasteful Rush Limbaugh Show ditties as “Osama Obama.”

Lest you think such things are limited to brief moments on the radio, Shanklin’s “Magic Negro” song has already been turned into a YouTube clip which makes its highly offensive lyrics even more apparent. It’s like a slap in the face, nothing but pure racial insult against Obama, who is charged with being inauthetically black and pictured in a Klan robe.

Only Muslims Commit Terrorism

If you define terrorism as an act committed by Muslims, then only Muslims can commit terrorism, right? Thus, when a bomb is planted outside an abortion clinic by the Fetus People, it’s not terrorism. It’s free speech. Perfectly logical.

Read Zuzu for more.

Update: Thanks much to alert maha reader MapRef41N93W, who sent a link to this story from today’s Birmingham (AL) News that’s not about terrorists:

Simultaneous raids carried out in four Alabama counties Thursday turned up truckloads of explosives and weapons, including 130 grenades, an improvised rocket launcher and 2,500 rounds of ammunition belonging to the small, but mightily armed, Alabama Free Militia.

Six alleged members of the Free Militia also were arrested by federal authorities and are being held without bond.

Investigators said the DeKalb County-based group had not made any specific threats or devised any plots, but was targeted for swift dismantling because of its heavy firepower. The militia, which called itself the Naval Militia at one point, had enough armament to outfit a small army. …

… The massive operation forced the closing of Collinsville High School on U.S. 11 because of traffic concerns. In Trussville, authorities rented a U-Haul truck to cart away the load of explosives and weapons from a house.

Agents encountered booby traps at one site. They found trip wires and two hand grenades rigged as booby traps at the Collinsville camper home of 46-year-old Raymond Dillard, who holds titles of both militia major and fugitive from justice on an unrelated federal case in Mobile.

“We were prepared,” Cavanaugh said. “We suspect booby traps with these types of groups.”

Arrested and detained in federal custody were Dillard, also known as Jeff Osborne, 46, of Collinsville; Adam Lynn Cunningham, 41, of Collinsville; Bonnell Hughes, 57, of Crossville; Randall Garrett Cole, 22, of Gadsden; James Ray McElroy, 20, of Collinsville; and Michael Wayne Bobo, 30, of Trussville.

None of these people are named Mohammed or al-Something; therefore, they are not terrorists.

Authorities wouldn’t pinpoint a leader, but said Dillard called himself the major. In addition to the booby traps, authorities recovered a long gun and a pistol from his home.

Recovered from Cunningham’s Collinsville home were stolen commercial fireworks, improvised hand grenades, fuse assemblies and a half-dozen guns. At Hughes’ Crossville home, agents found 100 improvised hand grenades, 70 improvised hand grenades fired from the 37 mm rocket launch, a submachine gun and two silencers.

An SKS rifle was found at McElroy’s home.

In Jefferson County, authorities said they had to rent a truck to handle the bomb-making material from Bobo’s home, as well as 2,500 rounds of ammunition and 12 guns.

The 30-year-old Bobo still lives with his parents and works for their pest-control company. Why am I not surprised?

But it’s a real relief to find out these guys aren’t Muslims, huh? Otherwise they might be dangerous or something.