Believe It, or Not

I really would like to know exactly who was behind this:

The U.S. Military is demanding that thousands of wounded service personnel give back signing bonuses because they are unable to serve out their commitments.

To get people to sign up, the military gives enlistment bonuses up to $30,000 in some cases.

Now men and women who have lost arms, legs, eyesight, hearing and can no longer serve are being ordered to pay some of that money back.

The article linked said that veterans have received letters from “the military” — I assume the Department of Defense — demanding a return of a portion of their sign-on bonus. Spencer Ackerman says he has attempted to get a response on this from the Pentagon. But, apparently, this has been going on for a while, under the radar. Last month Jonathan D. Silver wrote in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

The problem, as U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire sees it, is that soldiers wounded in Iraq are being denied bonuses when their injuries force an early military discharge. …

… “Hard as it may be to believe, the Department of Defense has been denying injured servicemen and women the bonuses that they qualified for,” Mr. Altmire said.

Altmire, a Democrat, has sponsored legislation to ensure the wounded and discharged vets enjoy the benefits of their entire bonus.

Not even rightie bloggers are defending this policy, but while leftie bloggers are blaming the Bush Administration, rightie bloggers mostly blame “bureaucracy.” Maybe this policy did not originate in the White House, but someone at some level of management, somewhere, must have authorized the policy. The letters didn’t write and mail themselves.

Tim at Balloon Juice:

Someone please explain to me why Malkin and Bob Owens work themselves into a feedback screech about Scott Beauchamp rather than crap like this.

Good question.

Scotty Squeals

I just have time for a quick note — I have been out this evening and just learned that Scott McClellan is dishing on his old White House homeboys in a new book, to be published in the spring. Mike Allen and Michael Calderone write for The Politico:

Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan names names in a caustic passage from a forthcoming memoir that accuses President Bush, Karl Rove and Vice President Cheney of being “involved” in his giving the press false information about the CIA leak case.

McClellan’s publisher released three paragraphs from the book “WHAT HAPPENED: Inside the Bush White House and What’s Wrong With Washington.”

The excerpts give no details about the alleged involvement of the president or vice president.

But McClellan lists five top officials as having allowed him inadvertently to mislead the public.

“I stood at the White house briefing room podium in front of the glare of the klieg lights for the better part of two weeks and publicly exonerated two of the seniormost aides in the White House: Karl Rove and Scooter Libby,” McClellan wrote.

“There was one problem. It was not true.”

McClellan then absolves himself and makes an inflammatory — and potentially lucrative for his publisher — charge.

“I had unknowingly passed along false information,” McClellan wrote.

“And five of the highest ranking officials in the administration were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice president, the president’s chief of staff and the president himself.”

McClellan says he was in that position because he trusted the president: “The most powerful leader in the world had called upon me to speak on his
behalf and help restore credibility he lost amid the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”

I’ve wondered if McClellan’s resignation as White House Press Secretary in April 2006 had anything to do wit the Plame-Wilson mess. Perhaps.

Tilting Toward Change

In spite of Senator Clinton’s performance in last week’s debates, the news today is that Senator Obama is pullng ahead of her in Iowa. Anne E. Kornblut and Jon Cohen write for the Washington Post:

The top three Democratic presidential contenders remain locked in a close battle in Iowa, with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) seeing her advantages diminish on key issues, including the questions of experience and which candidate is best prepared to handle the war in Iraq, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News Poll.

Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) draws support from 30 percent of likely Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa, compared with 26 percent for Clinton and 22 percent for former senator John Edwards (N.C.). New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson received 11 percent. The results are only marginally different from a Post-ABC poll in late July, but in a state likely to set the tone for the rest of the nominating process, there are significant signs of progress for Obama — and harbingers of concern for Clinton. …

…At the heart of the Democratic race has been the dichotomy between strength and experience (qualities emphasized by Clinton, Richardson, and Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut in their appeals) and the ability to introduce a new approach to governing (as Obama and Edwards have promised to do).

Iowa Democrats are tilting toward change, and Obama appears to be benefiting from it.

My understanding is that Obama is not only the first choice of a small majority of likely caucus-goers, he is also the second choice of a larger majority. Given the way the Iowa caucuses are conducted, this is significant. As various caucuses struggle to reach consensus, Obama could emerge as the most palatable compromise candidate.

Fifty-five percent of those surveyed reported that a “new direction and new ideas” are their top priority, compared with 33 percent who favored “strength and experience.” That is a shift from July, when 49 percent sought change and 39 percent experience.

Nationally, Clinton is viewed as a candidate of change, with support from 41 percent of Democrats seeking a new direction in a recent Post-ABC poll. But in Iowa, Obama dominates the “change” vote, winning 43 percent of that group, compared with 25 percent for Edwards and 17 percent for Clinton.

I say polls don’t mean anything until serious campaigning starts. Pundits always make too big a deal of very early polls. Last February nearly half of Democrats polled said they would vote for Hillary Clinton, and the other half of the votes were distributed among about 12 other people, including I Don’t Know. The political pundits proclaimed this as a sign that Hillary Clinton was inevitable. I think what it really meant was that Hillary Clinton had the most name recognition, and people being polled didn’t know much about the other 12 people named on the poll. Once campaigning heats up and voters get a good look at the rest of the mutts in the kennel, then polls start to mean something.

The factor that doesn’t necessarily mean much are campaign policy promises. Experience should tell us that very little of what any presidential candidate proposes will, if he is elected, be enacted exactly as it promised it. I think proposals can tell us how the candidates understand the issues, and that can be important. Certainly, intentions matter, and if a candidate proposes something that is spectacularly dumb and clearly won’t work, that tells us something, too.

E.J. Dionne has a column today about how Dems might eventually choose their candidate:

Clinton’s strongest asset is that Democrats are certain that she will know her way around the White House, be toughness personified in confronting Republicans, will rarely make a mistake — in brief, that she can survive walks through minefields.

But many Democrats like the idealism that emanates from Obama, appreciate the rupture with the Clinton-Bush past he represents, and see his very persona and background as sending a powerful signal of change.

My perception is that at least some of the electorate is worn out with toughness personified. We’ve had six years of strutting, chest-thumping, red meat tossing, testosterone-on-wheels politics. The Right still wants all that, but I think the rest of the country wouldn’t mind something entirely different.

And so it is that Democrats who once struggled over ideology will be making a much more personal choice in 2008. As the candidates shadowbox over issues, Democratic voters know in their bones that position papers will shed little light on the one question they really care about: Who has the best chance of ending, and then transcending, the Bush era?

I think if Senator Obama can persuade primary voters that he’s the true candidate of change, he’ll get the nomination.

Boxes

Today many people are posting this anti-abortion video and noting the subliminal message — that women are just objects, not people.

As Trailer Park Feminist (who has a transcript) says, “And shouldn’t we treat women like property, you know, just in case?”

Conversely, if you thought there was a chance a woman might actually being a fully sentient human being, and not just an ambulatory major appliance … well, I second Mustang Bobby:

I’m not sure which is more amazing; the ease with which the anti-abortion folks can reduce a complicated and intensely personal event such as a pregnancy down to this simplistic and dehumanizing idiocy, or the idea that they can portray women as nothing but a cardboard box and get away with it.

See also Bean (the comments are a hoot).

I’ve written many times before that an absolutist anti-choice position requires denying the autonomy and humanity of women. Certainly people of good will might favor some restrictions, such as gestational limits, on elective abortion. By absolutist I’m referring to the people Ellen Goodman wrote about earlier this year

Cynics, take heart. We offer you advance word from the troops preparing for Monday’s annual March for Life marking the 34th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The parade’s theme this year is “Thou Shalt Protect the Equal Right to Life of Each Innocent Human in Existence at Fertilization. No Exception! No Compromise!”

No exception! No compromise! Lots of exclamation points!

You can find high-flown absolutist rhetoric declaring that even a zygote has rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That may sound glorious and all, but in real life an absolute “protection” of “human life” from conception requires stripping fertile women of their rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and in extreme cases their rights to life, also. There are copious real-world examples of women living under draconian abortion laws who die gruesome deaths because of those laws. Clearly, such laws value the lives and humanity of women less than the lives and humanity of embryos. Women in these countries often go without medical help after a miscarriage because they fear persecution by the Womb Nazis. This is nothing other than political oppression.

For that reason, I continue to be astonished at the number of self-identified libertarians who see nothing wrong with banning abortion. The same people who roar with righteous indignation over big, oppressive government have no problem with government treating women like brood animals.

The words libertarian and liberal share the root word liberty. Over the years a great many views and opinions have been labeled “liberal,” but liberty and equality remain liberalism’s cornerstone. As it says here, liberalism’s fundamental principle is that “freedom is normatively basic, and so the onus of justification is on those who would limit freedom, especially through coercive means.”

I bring this up because I want to make it clear that, although liberals may disagree on many issues, no one who wants to criminalize all abortion can rightfully be called a “liberal.” If libertarians like Justin Raimondo want to claim that person, of course, that’s their business. But he ain’t one o’ ours.

Libertarians will disagree, but I say the essential difference between liberals and libertarians is that the latter define oppression as something only the federal government can do. If state governments violate the rights of its citizens and treat women and minorities like chattel, that’s OK with them. Liberals, on the other hand, think oppression is wrong no matter who or what is doing the oppressing. We think, for example, that if a state is denying its African American citizens equal treatment under the law, it’s a legitimate use of federal power to force the state to stop the oppression. Libertarians generally disagree, and would rather allow states to discriminate than concede any part of state sovereignty to Washington or federal courts.

Thus, to most libertarians, liberty and equality are less important than maintaining a weak federal government.

Justin Raimondo asks why “neocons and sectarian leftists” have united to “smear” Ron Paul. I can’t speak for everyone, but I do want readers of this blog to understand what Ron Paul stands for. And he stands for the political oppression of women. His followers seem to think it is enormously significant that Paul wants to keep the federal government out of abortion law and give the states total authority in the matter. I, on the other hand, think Womb Nazis are Womb Nazis, no matter what branch of government they report to.

I have seen people show up at liberal/progressive gatherings with Ron Paul T-shirts and buttons who don’t seem to know anything about Paul except that he’s against the war in Iraq. Well, folks, educate yourselves.

If you agree with Ron Paul’s views (meaning you aren’t one of my regular readers) then vote for him. That’s what republican government is about; you vote for the candidate you think will best represent you. My intention here is to be sure we’re all clear that Ron Paul is no liberal.

Yes, the Iraq War is a vital issue, but it’s not the only vital issue, and Ron Paul is not the only anti-war candidate. The struggle for liberty and equality in this country will continue long after the Iraq War has scrolled off the page into history.

And women aren’t boxes.

Projections

Frank Rich writes,

New Yorkers who remember Rudy Giuliani as the bullying New York mayor, not as the terminally cheerful “America’s Mayor” cooing to babies in New Hampshire, have always banked on one certainty: his presidential candidacy was so preposterous it would implode before he got anywhere near the White House.

Surely, we reassured ourselves, the all-powerful Republican values enforcers were so highly principled that they would excommunicate him because of his liberal social views, three wives and estranged children. Or a firewall would be erected by the firefighters who are enraged by his self-aggrandizing rewrite of 9/11 history. Or Judith Giuliani, with her long-hidden first marriage and Louis Vuitton ’tude, would send red-state voters screaming into the night.

Yet the Giuliani campaign springs back after every wound, like Rasputin. I admit, it’s making us nervous.

Rich goes on to snark about Judith Regan’s lawsuit against HarperCollins, which is juicy stuff. But I want to tie Rich’s column into something I read yesterday in the Boston Globe. Scott Lehigh wrote,

Massachusetts readers of the Sunday Globe may have choked on their coffee when they came across this finding in our new poll of New Hampshire: Granite State Republicans see Mitt Romney as the most trustworthy of the GOP candidates.

Certainly anyone who watched Romney retrofit his positions to run for president would find that a tad curious. Frankly, I might not have believed it either – had I not spent last Friday evening at an event in Hudson, listening to Romney and interviewing voters about him.

New York to Boston: Want to dish?

What’s more, voters I talked to didn’t particularly care that Romney has done some serious flip-flopping.

“Don’t they all?” said Loraine Battey of Hudson, who is undecided. “They say what people want to hear.”

“They all lie,” added Fred Taylor, a Hudson resident and Romney backer.

And the moral is, people see what they want to see.

The Giuliani campaign is particularly anxious to kneecap Romney support in New Hampshire, Lehigh says. So the Giuliani campaign is painting Romney as a flip-flopper and political poseur.

Well, if anyone would know political posing, it’s Giuliani. But why is it that so many voters get crushes on bad boys? Even voters like the above-quoted Fred Taylor, who know their candidate is a bad boy, still want to marry him. They seem to think once the knot is tied, the bad boy will become the man they want him to be.

At the Washington Post, Sridhar Pappu observes this phenomenon:

“When I talk to even Republican colleagues who run focus groups, you have these little old conservative ladies who say the most important issues are on abortion, on guns, on keeping taxes low,” says New York-based political consultant Joe Mercurio. “And when they ask these people who are you going to vote for they say Giuliani. I think a lot of people don’t care about Kerik and the marriages and living in a gay friend’s house, because they think he’s going to run against Hillary” Clinton.

Maybe he could defeat Hillary Clinton. But then we’d be stuck with Giuliani as President. America should just bend over and kiss its fanny goodbye. And Giuliani is George Bush with brains. You like cronyism? You like polarization? You like chief executives who think they are above accountability? Then Giuliani is your candidate.

My impression of Romney is that he’s not so much a bad boy as an empty suit; all packaging, no content. (But then, I haven’t spent that much time in Massachusetts.) But that makes him the perfect blank screen onto which voters may project their fears and ideals. And, I have to admit, he cleans up well. No wonder he’s leading the field at the moment.

Let’s skip back to the Frank Rich column. Here Rich is talking about the Wall Street Journal:

Fox News coverage of Ms. Regan’s lawsuit last week was minimal. After all, Mr. Giuliani dismissed the whole episode as “a gossip column story,” and we know Fox would never stoop so low as to trade in gossip. The coverage was scarcely more intense at The Wall Street Journal, whose print edition included no mention of the suit’s reference to that “senior executive” at the News Corporation. (After bloggers noticed, the article was amended online.) The Journal is not quite yet a Murdoch property, but its editorial board has had its own show on Fox News since 2006.

During the 1990s, the Journal editorial board published so much dirt about the Clintons that it put the paper’s brand on an encyclopedic six-volume anthology titled “A Journal Briefing — Whitewater.” You’d think the controversies surrounding “America’s Mayor” are at least as sexy as the carnal scandals and alleged drug deals The Journal investigated back then. This month a Journal reporter not on its editorial board added the government of Qatar to the small list of known Giuliani Partners clients, among them the manufacturer of OxyContin. We’ll see if such journalism flourishes in the paper’s Murdoch era.

But beyond New York’s dailies and The Village Voice, the national news media, conspicuously the big three television networks, have rarely covered Mr. Giuliani much more aggressively than Mr. Murdoch’s Fox News has. They are more likely to focus on Mr. Giuliani’s checkered family history than the questions raised by his record in government and business. It’s astounding how many are willing to look the other way while recycling those old 9/11 videos.

Damn liberal media.

One exception is The Chicago Tribune, which last month on its front page revisited the story of how, after Mr. Giuliani left office, his mayoral papers were temporarily transferred to a private, tax-exempt foundation run by his supporters and financed with $1.5 million from mostly undisclosed donors. The foundation, which shares the same address as Giuliani Partners, copied and archived the records before sending them back to New York’s municipal archives. Historians told The Tribune there’s no way to verify that the papers were returned to government custody intact. Mayor Bloomberg has since signed a law that will prevent this unprecedented deal from being repeated.

Journalists, like generals, love to refight the last war, so the unavailability of millions of Hillary Clinton’s papers has received all the coverage the Giuliani campaign has been spared. But while the release of those first lady records should indeed be accelerated, it’s hard to imagine many more scandals will turn up after six volumes of “Whitewater,” an impeachment trial and the avalanche of other investigative reportage on the Clintons then and now.

The Giuliani story, by contrast, is relatively virgin territory. And with the filing of a lawsuit by a vengeful eyewitness who was fired from her job, it may just have gained its own reincarnation of Linda Tripp.

We can hope.

Contrasts

Kurt Campbell notes in the New York Times that the “Iraqitects” — “the Bush Administration’s key architects of the Iraq War” — are not a group prone to losing sleep.

Indeed, what’s particularly unique about this group of national security strategists is their sheer ability to keep moving forward and to remain in the game. No public fretting or loss of composure, no signs of a larger remorse for the terrible chain of events they helped set in motion, no sense that history is not going as planned.

Even after offering atrocious advice to President Bush during the 2000 campaign, most of them are back again advising one or more of the prospective Republican candidates, and many continue to offer sage assessments and quick denunciations on Fox news about the recent developments in Iraq. All say that history will redeem them, that democracy will triumph in Iraq, and that Harry Truman has suddenly become their second favorite president of all time (no one could beat out the Gipper).

Iran poses new opportunities for scheming and planning, and Islamofascism is on the march and must be vigorously opposed. For the Iraq architects – or Iraqitects — life goes on and there is very little in the way of public accountability or introspection. Everything remains, well, normal.

Campbell uses the word normal quite a bit. Think Hannah Arendt.

Perhaps part of the curiosity is because this current generation of war planners has conducted themselves so much differently than the Vietnam era Masters of the Universe. Many from the version 1.0 of the best and the brightest – those intrepid Cold Warriors who led the country to a slogging defeat in Vietnam – had to subsequently endure booing on college campuses, shunning from old friends and colleagues, brutal treatment from the commentariat of the time, and the kind of bitter despair that generally accompanies a thoroughgoing battlefield defeat.

As a post graduate fellow at Harvard, I can still recall the lonely, ghostlike figure of Robert McNamara striding around Cambridge, making presentations to a new generation of would-be strategists about how to learn from his mistakes of the past. Others, like Dean Rusk, simply quietly retreated from public view, perhaps hoping history would treat them more gently than some of their contemporaries.

It’s a sad day when we look back at the “Vietnamitects” as role models.

The version 2.0 era of neoconservative advocates of military action to topple Saddam have behaved very differently in the midst of our current quagmire in Iraq. … very few have publicly questioned themselves over their own culpability in the entire mess. And those who have had the courage to do so, like Frank Fukuyama, have been roundly attacked and criticized from within the neocon camp. Indeed, what’s particularly unique about this group of national security strategists is their sheer ability to keep moving forward and to remain in the game. No public fretting or loss of composure, no signs of a larger remorse for the terrible chain of events they helped set in motion, no sense that history is not going as planned.

The Iraqitects remind me of a stock character in old films and television dramas, the aristocratic villain. Aristocratic villains are generally corrupt and incompetent bullies who are rich, titled, and privileged by accident of birth. No matter what messes they make, unless they are convicted of doing something treasonous or felonious (always a satisfying plot resolution) they remain rich, titled, and privileged. And they make life hell for the hero, who is usually a common-born, practical, man-of-action type.

Speaking of which, Barbara Barrett of the Virginia News & Observer writes that life is not so normal for others.

Late at night, after the moon has settled into the swamps and cotton fields surrounding Army Sgt. 1st Class Chad Stephens’ home, the soldier puts down his last drink.

He pulls himself off the sofa, leans over the television to snap quiet his latest war movie and lies in bed next to his wife of 12 years.

The dream never takes long to arrive. Stephens’ platoon of Bradley fighting vehicles is somewhere in Iraq, pinned down by the enemy.

Grenades fly at them. Bullets ding off metal. His troops holler into their radios, and Stephens, the platoon leader, feels the danger.

On this night in his dream, like every night, Stephens will keep a promise — to his soldiers and, in particular, to the mother of a blue-eyed gunner named Danny.

Nearly four years ago, in January 2004, the N.C. National Guard platoon sergeant stood in an Army classroom facing that mother and the families of the 40 men he was about to lead into war.

He stood 6-foot-4 and infantry-lean, and in the confident voice familiar to his men, he made a promise: I’ll bring your sons home.

He had wanted it to be true.

Even then, Stephens knew he was lying.

This is a powerful piece. Be sure to read it.

Just Wrong

Immigration authorities separate nursing mother and baby.

Even more heartbreaking, today Bob Herbert writes about a mother battling her health insurance provider while her daughter battled cancer.

One night, after coming home from school, Brittney suddenly found that she couldn’t walk. The cancer had attacked her spinal cord. As the doctors geared up to treat this new disaster, Ms. Hightower received word that her insurance policy had maxed out. The company would not pay for any further treatment.

Ms. Hightower was aghast: “I said, ‘What do you mean? It was supposed to be a $3 million policy.’ ”

She hadn’t understood that there was an annual limit of $75,000 on benefits. “It was just devastating when they told me that,” she said. …

…Sandra Hightower became almost frantic with the combined tasks of caring for her daughter and trying to figure out how to pay for the increasingly expensive treatments.

“Her back surgery, with the reconstruction and all that, was over three hundred and some thousand dollars,” she said. “I had to start doing fund-raisers, bake sales. And the community kicked in, my community here in Nacogdoches. Definitely the high school. And people donated to a benefit fund at the bank.”

After several months, Brittney was declared eligible for federal disability benefits, which enabled her to qualify for Medicaid. “But we still owed for everything before that,” said Ms. Hightower.

Brittney fought like crazy to survive, her mother said. But in the end, she didn’t make it. She died, at age 16, on June 5.

“I see her everywhere,” said Ms. Hightower, who still owes thousands of dollars in medical bills. “When I go to the grocery store, I see her favorite food. I go shopping, and I see the perfect little outfit that she would love.

“I’m so lost right now. And I feel like I failed my baby because I couldn’t bring in all the help she needed.”

I’m sure the wingnuts can dismiss Ms. Hightower by saying she should have chosen a job with better benefits.

Update: Satire? Pathology? You be the judge. A blogger writes,

What would life in the United States be like under a President who is obsesssed with personal power, does not respect the rule of law and has no tolerance for criticism?

Who has to wonder? But here’s the punch line — the blogger was writing about Hillary Clinton. Sort of snarks itself, huh?

Smart v. Stupid

Just to show I’m not against protesting, here are some of my amateur photos of a peace march held recently in New Rochelle, New York. It was a very cold day, which kept the crowd small, but a righteous time was had by all.

On the other hand, some people need to learn the difference between righteous protesting and stupid protesting. From The Olympian:

The United States continues to wage an unwinnable war in Iraq. In a misguided attempt to end that war, protesters have taken to the streets of Olympia this week to block the shipment of military equipment COMING HOME from that war.

See, dears, bringing stuff home is what we want. This is not what you should be protesting.

This newspaper has taken a strong stand against the war in Iraq. On the Fourth of July, we called for an end to the hostilities and an immediate withdrawal of troops. We asked how many more Americans will forfeit their lives on the battlefield and how many more tax dollars will be spent to stall America’s inevitable departure? We said, “It’s time to end the American bloodshed. It’s time to bring the troops home.”

While we are firmly against President Bush’s war and while we fully support protesters’ right to peaceably assemble, we condemn the tactics that have played out on the streets of the capital city this week. When protesters resorted to blocking roads, dragging debris into the middle of downtown streets, breaking windows, destroying public property, damaging police cars and hurling rocks at police, they clearly crossed the line. Their peaceful assembly evolved into lawbreaking and they must be held individually accountable.

This is the kind of crap that helped get Richard Nixon re-elected in 1972.

Proving she’s just as juvenile as the protesters, Little Lulu is shrieking about “sedition” and posting photographs and videos of alleged lawbreakers, no doubt hoping some West Coast wingnut will find them and do them bodily injury.

I realize you can argue that if you’ve touched off Malkin’s ire, you must be doing something right. But Malkin lives in perpetual snit mode, 24/7. She can no doubt be sent into a flying rage over the color of toothpaste. Her opinion is irrelevant.

And, at this point, it appears the opinion of the American people is irrelevant, also. But it wouldn’t hurt for us to reach some of the 40 percent of American citizens who still think victory is possible.

And how would that be done? Here’s a clue: Start by not being stupid.