Thursday, December 29, 2005

Whom To Impeach?

A few months back a colleague I discuss politics with chastised me in colorful language for even suggesting the possibility of impeachment. This was during the immediate aftermath of the Downing Street Memo. My point was that Bush clearly lied about the rationale for war and if the Democrats took back the House of Representatives, John Conyers would become the House Judiciary Chairman.

Conyers is one of the few Democrats I have any respect for these days. Most of the Democratic Party is a lump of spineless parasitic flesh, which consumes much, discharges odorous waste, and accomplishes precious little. Conyers however seized on the Downing Street Memo to rally outraged citizens all over the country and obtained a half-million signatures on a petition demanding answers from the White House. Prior to Conyers efforts the mainstream media was more than content to ignore the Downing Street Memo. Not surprising because the so-called liberal media is nothing but a propaganda stenographer factory for President Bush and his corrupt cronies. Conyers forced them to pay attention.

It was also John Conyers who took the lead in reporting on the electoral follies in Ohio last year, illustrating how George Bush once again prevailed illegitimately and illegally. I have no doubt that he has the steel and conviction to see impeachment through. Especially after the Judiciary Committee he serves on impeached President Clinton for lying about an extramarital affair under the leadership of counter culture reactionary, Congressman Henry Hyde.

My colleague proceeded to accuse me of living in a fantasy world for contemplating any impeachment scenario. Several months later we lived through Hurricane Katrina and President Bush brazenly boasted he authorized domestic surveillance without relying on court issued warrants through the FISA protocol. Katrina may turn out to be America’s Chernobyl and the new revelations about domestic surveillance have put George Bush on record for willfully disobeying the law. When combined with continued bloodshed in Iraq, new revelations from the Abramof scandal, and a looming health care crisis it’s not so far fetched that the Democrats just might recapture Congress in spite of their political ineptitude and impeachment is now openly discussed.

The bill of particulars against President Bush committing high crimes and misdemeanors is both substantial and credible:

  • As former Nixon White House counsel John Dean noted in his book Worse Than Watergate, Bush's false statements about WMDs in Iraq--used to mobilize support for an invasion--deceived the American people and Congress. In 2004, Dean told PBS’s Bill Moyers, "I think the case is overwhelming that these people presented false information to the Congress and to the American people." Bush's actions were far worse than Watergate according to Dean because "no one died for Nixon's so-called Watergate abuses."
  • The aforementioned Downing Street Memo revealed that Britain's MI-6 Director, Richard Dearlove told Tony Blair that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" by the Bush Administration. John Bonifaz, a constitutional law expert, noted that Bush seemingly "concealed important intelligence which he ought to have communicated," and "must certainly be punished for giving false information to the Senate." Bush deceived "the American people as to the basis for taking the nation into war against Iraq," Bonifaz argued--an impeachable offense.
  • Meanwhile, Professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University School of Law--a specialist in surveillance law--told the on Charlotte Observer December 20th that “The President’s dead wrong. It’s not a close question. Federal law is clear. When the President admits that he violated constitutional law, that raises serious constitutional questions of high crimes and misdemeanors.” Furthermore, this represents a similar abuse of power that was part of the impeachment charge brought against Richard Nixon in 1974.
The above points are a far more compelling rationale for impeachment than lying about an extra marital affair. This President did commit high crimes and misdemeanors and the House of Representatives would absolutely be justified in holding hearings to deliberate about these matters.
My question is whether impeaching President Bush is truly desirable. In 1974 this country was fortunate to have an honorable and decent man serving as Vice President in Gerald Ford. If a Democratic Congress is elected they must weigh the consequences of making Dick Cheney President. Bush at least is out of power in January 2009 and much of his agenda is now stalled. The man is a limp lame duck who is even retreating on his Iraqi policy. A Democratic Congress just might be able impose its will against this weakened President.

But a President Cheney will be difficult to dislodge or neutralize. Far from being a lame duck, a President Cheney will exploit the institutional powers of the White House to rally a divided Republican Party and hold onto power. The nomination would be his for the asking, as he would intimidate all sources of campaign financing not to support any rivals in the Republican Party. Meanwhile, the mainstream media as we have seen in recent years will probably assume a posture of subservience with only token critical reporting. They will go out of their way to help him rehabilitate his “Darth Vader” image. One can just imagine how reporters will describe a “new Cheney” just as the press lionized a “new Nixon” in 1968.

Ultimately, if a newly elected Congress were to impeach and remove President Bush it will put this country in greater peril. Whereas at least today we have a light at the end of the tunnel on January 20, 2009 - because whoever wins the Presidency in 2008 has to be more honorable and competent than George Bush. I therefore propose that the Democrats go after Vice President Cheney instead.

Vice President Cheney is the true power behind the throne anyway. Impeaching and removing him from office will serve multiple purposes: it will salvage and restore honor for America in the eyes of the civilized world as we stand up for the rule of law; the ring leader of the neo-cons will be disgraced and out of power; and a weakened President Bush will have to select a new Vice President that the Democrats approve of. Also, for all the lore about Bush’s fidelity to loyalty, there is already a distancing between Cheney and the Bush clan. Brent Scrowcroft would not tell the media that “I don’t know Dick Cheney anymore” without the permission of George Bush, Sr. George Bush might be relieved to be cut loose of Cheney. Cheney would have little choice but to take a bullet for the White House. Meanwhile, the symbolism of impeaching and removing Cheney would have considerable value while reaffirming constitutional principals about the rule of law. Future Presidents and Vice Presidents will remember the fate of a disgraced Dick Cheney.

Some out there might just wonder: why can’t we impeach both? It is doubtful that the body politic can absorb the impeachment and removal of a sitting President and Vice President no matter how justified. That would mean the Speaker of the House becomes President. While George Bush became President as the result of a legalistic coup in 2000, the entire political establishment would have a conniption fit at the prospect of Nancy Pelosi becoming President under such circumstances if the Democrats take the House of Representatives next year.

This is going to be a campaign issue in 2006. Liberal special interest groups will exploit the possibility of impeaching Bush to rally the party’s base. Meanwhile the Republicans will also rally their base by warning that an emboldened Democratic Congress will try to impeach President Bush. I maintain that Dick Cheney is the right target. Impeaching Bush is tantamount to indicting Kermit the Frog when everyone knows it’s really Ms. Piggie who wears the pants.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas From the Credit Card Industry

When challenged about the erosion of discipline in their ranks this year, Republican congressional leaders typically cited the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 as an example of their productivity. Already we’re seeing year end review testimonials in the media that acknowledge Republicans had a bumpy ride but still managed “accomplishments” such as this odorous piece of legislation demanded by the financial services industry, passed by Congress, and signed into law by President Bush. Upon closer examination however, this “accomplishment” amounts to nothing less than class warfare waged on behalf of the super rich against the little guy. Indeed, the new bankruptcy law illustrates the sheer indecency of the Republican Party machine as well as the feckless cowardice of the Democratic Party.

During the economic boom of the 1990’s (remember that?) banks went on an irresponsible lending spree. They issued credit cards to people with either poor credit history or none at all. It was not uncommon for someone of questionable income or even no income to receive a platinum credit card from Citibank, Chase or Capitol One with a generous credit line. While attending graduate school I interned at the corporate library of American Express in 2001. I maintained a journal of my experience and memorialized a conversation with a Vice President I occasionally performed research for and was on good terms with. I asked this gentleman why American Express was targeting less affluent people and wondered if they were assuming an unreasonable risk in doing so. He told me, “They’re all going to have to pay eventually. The lawmakers are on our side because of heavy campaign contributions from our industry. First we have to get Joe and Jane Smith hooked on the great American drug: credit.” I followed up and asked if that might cause undue hardship for the middle and working class who were strapped for cash in the short term and didn’t understand the long-term consequences of burning a hole through their credit cards. His response to that was, “not my problem.”

Predictably, people in the middle and lower income brackets hit a wall when the economy went bust and jobs were lost. Many were confronted with medical calamities in their families, had no health insurance and no means of meeting their financial obligations. In the past such people had the option of declaring Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and getting a “fresh start.” Conservative critics typically excoriated the concept of a fresh start as an unjustified reward for profligate spending. In fact declaring bankruptcy is a lifeline for people in legitimate need.

A "fresh start" used to be the objective of American bankruptcy law. The new law requires people who earn more than the median income in their state to pay off their debts on a five-year repayment plan. In theory, lower income earners may still avail themselves of Chapter 7's debt-erasing provisions, but they’re confronted with all sorts of additional hurdles, including mandatory credit counseling, greater paperwork requirements, and rising lawyers' fees. The new obstacles make it virtually impossible for lower income people to declare bankruptcy. For a detailed analysis of the new bankruptcy legislation I recommend reading, Impact of Bankruptcy Legislation on Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation by Kurt LP Lawson and Andrew J. Love in the September 20, 2005 edition of Tax Management Financial Planning Journal.

Contrary to conservative propaganda most do not declare bankruptcy because of profligate spending. Typically, lower and middle-income workers are forced to declare bankruptcy because of a medical calamity in their family. If a lower income individual with limited or no health insurance can't declare bankruptcy when a child suffers from a medical calamity, they’re in danger of complete financial destitution – even homelessness. Indeed, many of these people are among the 43 million not currently benefiting from health insurance or their coverage is simply inadequate to meet their needs. The Republicans resist any health care reform because of the campaign contributions they receive from insurance companies. Yet they also impose obscenely difficult standards for people without health insurance to obtain a fresh start so the wealthy plutocrats of the financial services industry can further enrich themselves.

One wonders why American Express, Citicorp, Capitol One, Chase, MNBA and others are not held accountable for their lending practices in the first place. This is corporate welfare at its worst, rewarding corporate vultures at the expense of families in need. Incredibly, as Timothy Logan reported in the New York Times on December 11th, those who managed to declare bankruptcy before the new law took effect on October 17th are already receiving solicitations from major banks to apply for credit cards! What these banks are doing is tantamount to offering crack cocaine to recovering addicts.

Another important impact of the new bankruptcy law is that an indispensable safety net for small risk taking entrepreneurs is gone. Bankruptcy regulations that apply to large corporations are essentially unchanged. For example, United Airlines can declare bankruptcy and avoid their financial obligations regarding their employees' pension funds. However, the new law does facilitate economic distress on those small businesses that our economy is so dependent on for job creation. Unlike large corporations, individual owners usually finance small businesses, with money from their own bank accounts. Previously an owner of a failing small enterprise had the option of declaring bankruptcy so they could obtain a fresh start and still take care of their family. With that safety net removed it is far more difficult for the little guy to be an innovative risk taker. The Republican barons in Congress such as the Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Charles Grassley care little about the risk-taking entrepreneur. As far as their concerned, the new bankruptcy law is an “accomplishment” to be celebrated.

Sadly, the Republicans were aided and abetted by the support of eighteen Democrats in the Senate – including Minority Leader Harry Reid. For the record, New York Senator Hillary Clinton did not vote at all. Over seventy House Democrats supported the measure as well. Others who did not vote for it supported the Republicans in their parliamentary tactics and maneuvers to get it through. Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut was especially guilty of two-faced behavior – denouncing the legislation while supporting Senator Bill Frist’s efforts to shut off cloture. A few such as Senator Charles Schumer of New York valiantly put up a fight. Schumer actually tried to attach “poison amendments” to the new law and make it more difficult for people who blow up abortion clinics to declare bankruptcy in paying for their legal defense. That tactic worked for a couple years but without the support of the Democratic leadership the bill’s final passage could not be prevented.

The fecklessness of the Democrats on this issue was arguably their most shameful moment in 2005. With a united front the Democrats could have exposed the Republicans as a party favoring the fat cats at the expense of small businesses and their hard working employees. Instead, too many Democrats were on the take from the same greedy financial services industry that the Republicans were. Consequently, Senator Schumer was discouraged from making his fight overtly public. Senator Reid was highly motivated to maintain a united front on Social Security. But on this issue he was fearful of Democrats like himself being exposed as no better than his Republican counterparts. I have no doubt that a united front among the Democrats would have embarrassed a sufficient number of Republicans to at least make the new law less harmful on middle and lower income people. Instead the Democratic Party took a hanging curveball right down the middle.

If the Democrats were unable as a party to oppose this new law then what is the point of the Democratic Party even existing? How are they any different than the Republicans? Every Democrat on record as supporting this legislation deserves to be challenged in a primary. Any Democrat who supported this legislation and runs for President does not deserve their party’s nomination. Can you just imagine if some corporate lobbyist attempted to persuade Lyndon Johnson at his ranch to support this law? You would have wanted to reserve a hospital room in advance for such a person. Click on the link below to learn how every Senator and member of the House of Representatives voted.

To every public official who supported this law I ask one simple question: is this truly why you entered public life?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

In A New York Minute

For this evening’s post I must vent about the subway strike in New York City. All politics is local as Tip O’Neill used to say and for the moment this issue is more important to me than Iraq, the Supreme Court, domestic surveillance and just about anything else you can think of.

As a New Yorker I feel like a child of two divorcing parents who both cheat and drink too much. Both the MTA and the Transit Workers Union are reprehensible. The culture of MTA’s management is a reflection of Governor George Pataki’s stewardship. Governor Pataki has operated very much in the President Bush mold: packing the MTA with corrupt cronies who have disgracefully mismanaged their finances and profited obscenely at the expense of all New Yorkers. For years any attempt to get a true accounting of what is really going on has been impossible. Consequently our subway fares continued to increase with no tangible upgrades in service. Now we learn there is a billion dollar surplus they were hiding! I don’t trust MTA’s management and truly believe they want the surplus for their own greedy hands rather than reaching an equitable solution with the union.

Nonetheless, the more I learn about the points of contention I can’t really sympathize with the union. Typically I am pro-labor as many liberals are. However, this union is not operating in the real world. A transit union worker is striking so he can retire on a lucrative pension in his fifties but not contribute a nickel to this pension? Excuse me but what planet are they living on? Most of us in today’s global economy don’t even have pensions. The best many can hope for is a 401K that their employer contributes nothing and hopefully isn’t raided by some corrupt CEO such as “Kenny Boy” Lay.

While the Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson cynically cloak themselves as the voices of working people during this strike, it is low wage employees who are hurt more than anyone else. We have people who survive paycheck to paycheck in this city that either can’t get to work or must utilize more expensive alternatives they can’t afford. My sympathy is for people like that, not the union. What about the poor woman in her forties with kids to support and no pension? She’s has to wake up three hours earlier and walk across the Brooklyn Bridge in late December. She’s not earning anything close to a transit worker in this city and her finances are severely damaged by this strike. How come Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson don’t stand with those people instead?

As always we New Yorkers are far more civil and cooperative with each other than we’re given credit for. That was true on 9/11. It happened during the blackout in August 2003. Today New Yorkers were helpful and patient during a day of horrible turbulence and inconvenience. It was gratifying to bond with my fellow Brooklynites as we collectively braved the December chill and treked across the Manhattan Bridge. We deserve better than Governor George Pataki’s cronies at the MTA and transit workers who don’t appreciate how well off they truly are.

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Intrepid Russ Feingold

The Bush Era is about the exploitation of fear. Both the body politic and our citizenry are currently regulated by fear, putting our own liberty in far greater jeopardy than our enemies have. When historians review the Bush Era, they will judge the leaders of our time with a harsh lens. I suspect historians will be especially critical of cowardly and unprincipled politicians such as the feckless Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, both advocates for making the most egregious elements of the obscenely named “Patriot Act” permanent. One can understand why the otherwise judicious President John Adams imposed the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798 . At that time, enemies surrounded us on our own soil and the republic was young.

It is disappointing that our standards have not improved in 207 years – particularly when one considers the lessons learned from the McCarthy Era and Watergate. Indeed, just when I don’t think my disgust for President Bush and his cabal of cynical fear mongers can go any higher, it is today learned that he sanctioned the grotesque rape of our privacy and allowed the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States without the court-approved warrants typically required for domestic surveillance. To his credit, Republican Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter has called for hearings early next year about the matter.

Lately, other politicians have also demonstrated resoluteness – including Republican Senators John Sununu of New Hampshire and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. However, only one politician had the foresight and judicious courage to vote against the Patriot Act four years ago – Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. Not even the late progressive champion, Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota could summon the courage to oppose the Patriot Act in the aftermath of 9/11. Feingold did and his warnings about granting the government too much power for a false sense of security were prescient.

Senator Feingold is a rare Democrat because he’s a progressive with authenticity and the courage of his convictions. This is not a Senator who requires a focus group or highly paid consultant to inform him what he should believe about Terry Shiavo, war, or who belongs on the Supreme Court. He certainly would never pander the way Hillary Clinton recently has regarding flag burning. To his credit, Senator Feingold also demonstrated backbone by approving new Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. Unlike Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, NARAL and other pro-choice special interest groups did not bully Feingold – even though he is a likely contender for the Democratic nomination for President. As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee he asked Judge Roberts tough questions and concluded he possessed the right qualifications and temperament to sit on the Supreme Court. I think he made the right call.

It was Senator Feingold who first suggested setting a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq back in November. Many Democrats rushed to distance themselves from Feingold after his courageous proposal for a flexible withdrawal date of December 31, 2006. Many of those same Democrats are today praising Congressman John Murtha’s position of redeployment after six months. As readers of the Intrepid Liberal Journal already know, I am a supporter of Murtha’s proposal. However, it was Senator Feingold who got the ball rolling. A U.S. Senator in the heartland without a military pedigree is far different than a liberal member from a safe district in the House of Representatives or one with an impeccable military pedigree such as Congressman Murtha. It took far more political courage for Russ Feingold to go against the grain and President Bush’s stifling “don’t cut and run must stay the course” rhetoric.

Finally, Senator Feingold has been a steadfast proponent of reforming the campaign finance system as a co-sponsor of the famous McCain/Feingold legislation. His career illustrates that his convictions are not for sale. I don’t agree with every position Senator Feingold has taken over the years. For example I think he made the wrong call in 1999 when he opposed President Bill Clinton’s military intervention in Kosovo. Nevertheless, this country could do far worse than electing him President in 2008.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Global Waming & Water Shortage In the American Southwest

Sitting on the border between Arizona and Nevada is the largest man made reservoir in the United States – Lake Meade. It was constructed when the Hoover Dam was built in the 1930s. A majestic and awe inspiring site, Lake Meade is a tribute to American ingenuity. It represents a remarkable achievement of engineering and skilled labor. Yet in the November 28th edition of the Toronto based publication Maclean’s, Steven Maich wrote that,

“All around the 880 km of Mead's rocky shoreline, a bright white calcium deposit, known to locals as the bathtub ring, marks a high water level that is a quickly fading memory. Drought has dropped the surface of the lake 20 m below the bathtub ring over the past five years. Boulder Beach, once a popular day trip destination for nearby residents, is now about 300 m from the water's edge. The boat launch and fuel pumps of what used to be a marina are abandoned in the middle of what now looks like a parking lot. The marina and its luxury yachts chased the water to a new location a couple of miles down the road more than a year ago.”
This is a very disturbing development. Lake Meade is the primary source of drinking water for the Las Vegas Valley. The Las Vegas Valley also happens to be the fastest growing urban area in the United States. Over three trillion gallons of water have disappeared in five years. Consequently, population growth in the southwest may not be sustainable. Even more disturbing is the Colorado River that powers the turbines of the Hoover Dam and is a vital source of drinking water for much of southern California and Arizona. Between 2000 and 2005 the Colorado River’s flow fell by approximately half.

The emerging water shortage crisis in America’s southwest is directly linked to our excessive CO2 emissions in the atmosphere. Commonly referred to as “global warming” most Americans do not appreciate the full dimensions of our current crisis. Global warming is an abstract issue for most Americans. Even the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has not jolted us out of our complacency. We hear about climate change, watch politicians’ debate about drilling for oil in Alaska, and go about our business.

Global warming is an issue of national security that merits the complete mobilization of the scientific community, private industry, and citizen involvement. We’ve seen the consequences of having to rely on diabolical regimes for oil. Well just consider the consequences of depending on the mercy of other nations to supply water. Thankfully, the most water rich nation on the planet is Canada and they are hardly a despotic regime. Nonetheless, there will be tensions in relations with our northern neighbor. Indeed, as Maich reports in his article, the Centre for Research and Information on Canada found that 69 per cent of Canadians are opposed to water exports. The Ottawa province has responded to public pressure, and instituted a ban on exports from boundary waters in 2002.

In other parts of the world water shortage may result in hostilities, territorial encroachments, and perhaps civil wars. All of which complicates stability, free trade, and nurturing nascent democracies. Our leaders must be pro-active and address issues such as the pending water shortage crisis in the southwest with candor and urgency. To do so first requires that our national leadership confront the issue of global warming as a clear and present danger.

As we’ve seen recently in the international gathering at Toronto, much of the world gets it and is planning to adapt their behavior to new realities. Also, local governments within the United States are also filling the leadership vacuum left by the Bush Administration. New York, Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont – are developing a regional plan for capping power-plant emissions and allowing trading in "carbon credits." And at least nine states, including New York, have adopted or plan to adopt California's tough new standards on automobile emissions. The leadership of politicians from both parties on the local level is gratifying. The United States is the world’s leading culprit regarding CO2 emissions and global warming cannot be reversed without our cooperation.

However, it requires the bully pulpit of the Presidency and the power of the Federal government to fully mobilize all sectors of the economy and engage the citizenry. We all need to be inspired
and required to change our behavior beyond recycling plastic. Too my chagrin, conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote on December 8th that,

“Global warming is real (conservatives secretly know this).”
That’s incredible. The whole world is coming to grips with a global calamity but national conservatives don’t want to publicly acknowledge the problem. Indeed, we’ve seen this President and his deluded Vice President politicize the Environmental Protection Agency with public relations propagandist hacks to cast doubt that global warming even exists. That is not leadership. That is dishonorable and indecent. It demonstrates a perverse lack of global conscience and is simply immoral.

I realize the Kyoto Protocol contains flaws and the potential for economic turbulence is real. However, as the Los Angeles Times
reported on December 8th, 25 economists, including three Nobel laureates, released a statement

“calling on the U.S. to establish market-based approaches to reducing greenhouse gases to avoid what they predicted would be the far more costly consequences of a changing climate.”
This will require our finest minds grappling with the issue and formulating solutions. A genuine energy policy that isn’t written by corporate lobbyists would be nice beginning.

If President Bush really wants to change the dynamic of his failed Presidency and accomplish something I suggest he take a page out of Harry Truman’s playbook. After World War Two a fatigued and isolationist America wanted to retreat from the world. President Truman however delivered his famous “scared hell” speech in 1947 and the American public was engaged in the Cold War struggle for the next forty-four years. Mr. Bush is not running for re-election and he no longer requires the financial support of his energy supporters. Yes he lacks credibility but the bully pulpit remains a powerful device and he has three plus years to do some good with it.

Global warming also presents new opportunities for our economy to be on the cutting edge of developing alternative technologies. But if we don’t get involved the world will leave us behind and we’ll have to play catch up.

Memo to President Bush and the Republican Party: Earth is your planet too.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Republocrat Joe Lieberman

I respect Joe Lieberman. As a Jewish American I was proud of Al Gore’s selecting him as the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate in 2000. I thought he conducted himself with dignity and grace but still delivered a good partisan punch when required. In 2004 I respected Lieberman for his authenticity and refusal to pander to Democratic Party activists over the Iraq War. I disagreed with him intensely over his views but there is something to be said for a man demonstrating that kind of strength.

Like all 100 Senators he looks in the mirror and sees someone he believes should be President. He has that singular vanity and ego that epitomize so many in public life. It would have been easy for him to be seduced by that ambition and try pandering his way to the nomination. For example, Senator John Kerry voted for the war yet tried to be the anti-war candidate at the same time. If the war had gone differently I suspect he would have been closer to Lieberman than Howard Dean. Too many Democrats have an authenticity problem in their opposition to President Bush. For five years the Democrats were spinelessly rolled on tax cuts, bankruptcy legislation and the Terry Shiavo situation because of their cowardice to say what they really believe unless the polls tell them it’s OK. Somehow, Senator Lieberman has retained his authenticity while occupying the political center and that merits more than a little respect.

Today Lieberman finds himself in the Democratic Party’s crosshairs and many of my fellow liberals consider him a traitor as the New York Times reported today. Yet I wonder if’s Tom Matzzie would have demonstrated the same courage Joe Lieberman did in the 1960’s and put himself on the line for civil rights. As a young man, Joe Lieberman went to the deep south to protect the rights of blacks to vote. If you think that was an easy and safe activity for a Jewish person to do, think again. Lieberman was risking his life for a just cause. Would Tom Matzzie have done the same? I have to ask myself if I would have done the same. Ask yourselves that question.

However, more than personal respect is required to earn support. Leadership is also about judgment and accountability. Sadly, this good man’s record in recent years is sub-par. First, it was largely through Senator Lieberman’s initiative that the bureaucratic catastrophe known as the Department of Homeland Security was created. Lieberman is the ranking Democrat on the Senate’s Government Affairs Committee. Aided and abetted by Senator Susan Collins of Maine, they rushed an ill- advised reorganization of the Federal government that has further undermined our ability to fight terrorism and respond to disaster. Senator Kennedy correctly referred to it at the time as “re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.” The Bush Administration was actually right to initially oppose the plan but flip-flopped in embracing it because it appeared to accomplish something on the surface. Indeed, President Bush hypocritically exploited the creation of Homeland Security as a wedge to defeat Democrats in the 2002 mid-term elections. As we have seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, our response infrastructure has become even less coordinated. The one component of national disaster recovery that used to work well – FEMA – was neutered by the creation of this Department. As Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton recently reported in their independent commission’s final report, both the President and Congress have largely failed to make us safer four years after 9/11. As the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Government Affairs Committee, doesn’t that fall under Senator Lieberman’s bailiwick?

I also find Lieberman’s assertions troubling that we shouldn’t question the President’s credibility regarding the Iraq War. We have more than enough evidence to at least be suspicious that the Bush Administration misled the country in a war of choice. Lieberman’s position that questioning Bush only will undermine his credibility at our “peril” because he has three years left in his term is flat wrong. The fact that Bush has so much time left in his Presidency demands that he be held accountable. As we have already seen, an unchallenged Bush without proper oversight has put this country in tremendous peril. Already we’re seeing some positive results from a more aggressive Democratic posture: Bush has responded to Congressman Murtha and is listening to the Pentagon more about exiting Iraq; Secretary of State Rice retreated somewhat on our policy of detainees while in Europe; and the President has finally acknowledged mistakes in the early stages of the war - a necessary first step to reach a an exit strategy consensus. Does anybody believe that could have happened without the Democrats finally behaving like an opposition party? If anything the Democrats have been too supplicant.

Domestically Lieberman was too willing to sell out on Social Security and ready to undermine the Democrats efforts to stand up to Bush earlier this year. He also aided and abetted the downgrading of accounting standards responsible for the Enron type scandals that have caused so much harm to the middle class. Finally, there is the bankruptcy legislation that passed earlier this year at the behest of the banking and credit card industry and at great harm to struggling families. Lieberman opted for two-faced behavior as he released a press release denouncing the new law yet supported the Republican parliamentary tactics on cloture in order to serve his contributors from the banking and credit card industry. I’ll write more about the new bankruptcy law and the Democrats complicity in its passage in a future post. For the time being let me just say that any Democrat who supported it by their votes on the floor or through parliamentary shenanigans as Lieberman did, deserves to be challenged in a primary. Lieberman is a good man. But he also appears to have lost touch with the modest working class roots that he came from.

Joe Lieberman has become what I label a “Republocrat”. A Republocrat is someone who politically seeks to benefit from the Democratic label but undermines progressive values. If I were a Connecticut resident he would not have my vote.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Iran Gambit

Sixty-Four years ago today the Japanese obliterated the American Pacific Fleet with a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. One wonders how many Americans realize that today is also the 18th anniversary of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) agreement signed by President Ronald Reagan and the Soviet Union’s Michael Gorbachev. I was a freshman at college at the time and watching the ceremony on television one could sense history turning a page. The President who only six years before referred to the Soviet Union as an “evil empire” was dismantling the Cold War.

As readers of the Intrepid Liberal Journal might surmise, I was not a Reagan supporter. His reference to “state’s rights” in 1980 while campaigning in Philadelphia, Mississippi where four civil rights workers were murdered for registering blacks to vote offended me – yes even at the age of 11. I thought his emphasis on tax cuts for the rich at the expense of delivering services for the poor and disadvantaged was callous. I had a problem with his Central American policy that shamelessly permitted the CIA to torture nuns in El Salvador and allowed the Nicaraguan Contras to push cocaine in our cities. Finally, Reagan’s advocacy of breaking down the walls separating church and state scared me.

Nonetheless, President Reagan deserves the accolades of history for seizing the moment with Gorbachev. True, Gorbachev’s brave reforms made such an opportunity possible. It is easy to forget however that Reagan was equally courageous. His own party at the time was not enthusiastic about any rapprochement with Moscow. I remember how Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina helped sponsor a mailing to conservatives accusing Reagan of appeasement in 1988. The mailing contained pictures of Neville Chamberlain and Adolph Hitler on top and Reagan and Gorbachev underneath. I also recall how during the President’s State of the Union address in 1988, Democrats cheered while the Republicans sat on their hands when he referred to his diplomatic engagement with the Soviets.

It could not have been easy for the President to be so at odds with his party over détente. At the time President Reagan was on the ropes. The Iran-Contra scandal sapped his credibility and exposed Reagan’s lax management style and incurious intellect. House Speaker Jim Wright was increasingly assertive and Congress as a whole regarded him as a weak lame duck. His nominee to the Supreme Court – Robert Bork – ushered in an era of heightened partisanship regarding the make up of the judiciary. Reagan’s next nominee was forced to withdraw because of revelations that he smoked marijuana at Yale. On domestic policy he was no longer getting traction as the Washington elites shifted their focus to the ’88 Presidential election.

Thankfully, his wife Nancy and new Chief of Staff Howard Baker convinced the President to take advantage of Gorbachev’s reform agenda. As a result Reagan recaptured much of America’s good will and advanced the cause of world peace. My fellow liberals will probably hang me for that previous sentence but it is the truth.

Our current President is in far worse shape than Reagan was and he deserves to be. He pivoted from a legitimate military response in Afghanistan to a war of choice under false pretenses in Iraq. At best he misled and at worst he lied in a war about oil. President Bush had a unified country behind him after 9/11 and a sympathetic international community. His Administration mistakenly regarded America’s and the world’s immediate rallying behind Bush as a tribute to him. They did not have the perspective to understand that any President would have enjoyed this support in the aftermath of 9/11. Al Gore would have enjoyed a ninety percent approval rating too. Bush squandered his political capital to reward Christian fundamentalists on cultural issues, deliver excessive tax cuts to his corporate base, and gave in to the neo-cons who were thrilled to have a 21st century Pearl Harbor to exploit. A substantial majority of Americans no longer trust this President or regard him as a strong leader. Meanwhile the United States currently finds itself in opposition to the civilized world about torture. Finally, Iraq is poised to become a base of worldwide terrorism whereas it was not before. Indeed, Iraq may well become what Afghanistan was before we overthrew the Taliban if the Jihadists have their way. So Bush is indeed in dire straits and desperate to contain the damage.

For all Bush’s stay the course rhetoric, the center of gravity regarding policy in Iraq has shifted. Congressman Murtha’s proposal was a tsunami. Even as the majority of members in both parties say they disapprove of Murtha’s six-month timetable, they’re essentially moving in that direction. Murtha’s proposal is a reflection of the military’s conventional wisdom that this war cannot be won by force alone. Any victory will have to result from a political solution. Militarily the best the Administration can hope to achieve at this point is preventing the terrorist menace inside Iraq from spreading.

This brings us to Iran. Currently, the one true victor of the Iraq war appears to be Iran. Retired General and former Democratic Presidential candidate Wesley Clark published a thoughtful Op-Ed in the New York Times yesterday, warning of that very possibility. He disagrees with both political parties; neither favoring Bush’s stay the course strategy or Murtha’s redeployment plan. He instead advocates increasing emphasis on securing Iraq’s borders with Iran and Syria. I’m more inclined to agree with Congressman Murtha’s approach. As I see it, we can’t even secure the Mexican border in our own country so trying to secure Iraq’s borders by retaining the occupation is near impossible. However, General Clark’s opinions are not easily dismissed. One part of Clark’s Op-Ed especially captured my attention:

“The American approach shows little sense of Middle Eastern history and politics. As one prominent Kuwait academic explained to me, in the Muslim world the best way to deal with your enemies has always been to assimilate them – you never succeed in killing them all, and by trying to do so you just make more enemies.”
Getting back to Iran, Saddam was a bulwark and prevented them from extending their hegemony in the Persian Gulf. That’s why Saddam’s Arab neighbors put up with him. With Saddam’s removal from power the majority Shiite population has an opportunity to transform Iraq into a theocracy. American Ambassador Negroponte is a skilled professional and has performed ably in facilitating compromises among the Shiite’s, Kurds, and Sunnis on paper. But paper is only paper. The constitution under the Weimar Republic was merely paper as well. So for that matter was the Provisional Government under Alexander Kerensky in 1917 after Czar Nicholas II was removed from power. Iraq is a tinderbox and the mullah’s of Iran are lying in the high weeds.

Iran is also vulnerable to instability in Iraq. For one thing, Al Quaeda and the Iranians are untrusting rivals and different culturally. Al Quaeda is on the front lines of fomenting terror and without a country. The mullah’s of Iran have been in power for a generation and foment terror through proxies such as Hezbelloah in Israel. During the Cold War, Moscow fought ruthlessly by proxy across the globe but preferred stability on their borders. Too much unrest in Iraq has the potential to result in blow back for the Iranians. Saddam wanted nothing to do with Al Quaeda because he knew he couldn’t control them. In spite of their religion the mullahs of Iran and Al Quaeda are in very different positions. Al Quaeda gains by instability while the mullah’s want to preserve their control. There is also the potential spillover of instability among the former Sunni Baathists and the Kurds.

Added to this mix is an Iranian population primarily under age 30 and restive. While their newly elected President utters bombastic rhetoric against the West and Israel the people would prefer a rapprochement with the West. Iran needs western credits, reduced tension levels with the IAEA so they don’t have to endure a sanctions regime, and economic opportunities for their young population that is increasingly pro American. So while an Islamic theocracy may be desirable, stability is just as important to them. They want to preserve their own authority and are suspicious of anything they can’t control. They also don’t want to have a threatening neighbor in Iraq because they remember the bloody war Saddam waged with them for eight years. Finally, they don’t want the Americans threatening them right next-door and Iraqi instability might force the Americans to stay rather than leave. Put it all together and they need to talk.

The Bush Administration needs stability in Iraq and can’t have it without the cooperation of the Iranians. Terrorism will not be contained inside Iraq unless the United States can reach a diplomatic accommodation with Iran. The Bush Administration realizes this and during the past week the two governments engaged in the highest level of negotiations since the 1979 revolution. Not surprisingly the Iranians are playing hard to get for now and refused more overtures. In their judgment Bush needs to talk more than they do and they can wait him out to extract more concessions. I think they're right. We have not heard the end of this Administration’s outreach to Iran. Bush has no choice. We will knock on Iran’s door again.

For Bush, a diplomatic initiative may be an opportunity to transform his image from the imperialist who tortures Muslims to peacemaker. He is currently shut out domestically. The President’s prestige is emaciated internationally. Bush's entire legacy is contingent upon what happens in Iraq and he needs Iran for any chance at a favorable outcome. We’ve seen this sort of thing before. President Nixon, the staunch anti-Communist reached out to China hoping to gain leverage in Vietnam. Reagan of course. Ariel Sharon, a staunch Israeli Zionist has formed a new political party dedicated to negotiating new borders with a Palestinian state. So, could it be that George W. Bush, reviled by Muslims worldwide, will go to a charter member of the "Axis of Evil" in Iran? It would be a huge gamble. One that could backfire severely. With three plus years left in Bush's term I predict he will.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Reality Sundered

In 1968, Richard Nixon promised "peace with honor" in Vietnam using Eisenhower and Korea as his model. Nixon's promise of an honorable peace contributed heavily to his election as President. Instead our last memory of Vietnam is a helicopter lifting off a rooftop in Saigon. The symbolism couldn't have been clearer: America was impotent and forced to retreat.

This week, the President made a speech at the United States Naval Academy, which the media portrayed as a watershed moment because he rolled out a plan. To further reinforce that they know what they're doing, the Administration made this plan available to the public in a PDF document.

One reads much of the same rhetoric we've heard before in the thirty-eight pages. Declaring any timetable is a sign of weakness to the enemy and only emboldens the terrorists. Failure is not an option because the stakes are so high. On page 18 the Administration boasts, "Iraqis have hit every political benchmark in their transitional political process – and are on track to hit the next one: elections in December to select a four-year government under a democratic constitution, with full participation from all of Iraq’s main ethnic and religious communities."

All of which reads nice enough and in fairness to the Administration, Ambassador Negroponte has performed ably in facilitating dialogue among the disparate ethnic and religious groups. Furthermore, one can expect a concentrated effort of security on December 15th, as was the case in April. For one day in December at least the Iraqis may enjoy a day of order and hopefully no bloodshed. One had to be moved by the millions of determined Iraqis courageously risking their lives to cast ballots in April. I expect no less a display on December 15th and it really puts us Americans who don't vote too shame for our cynical apathy.

Nevertheless, it appears to me that President Bush and the body politic are disconnected from reality. The Administration's incompetence has put us in the following conundrum: the Iraqis are incapable of resisting the insurgents by themselves but our presence is the catalyst for the insurgency. With recruitment levels at all time lows and our forces stretched thin, the occupation isn't sustainable. Yet our withdrawal may facilitate further calamity and disruption in the region. Withdrawal is also dishonorable as I previously wrote on November 20th. A pre-mature pullout means Iraq becomes Lebanon redux - only worse. Stay and our military is bogged down in a conflict we will never prevail in because the definition of victory is amorphous. If victory means, "we'll stand down when the Iraqis can stand up" I don't see how we can leave anytime soon - if ever.

The statistics the Bush Administration cites about Iraqi battalions ready to lead and take control is reminiscent of Lyndon Johnson's Pentagon hyping body counts during Vietnam. During his speech, President Bush boasted that 40 Iraqi battalions led the fight against the insurgents in Tal Afar earlier this year. Yet Time magazine's Michael Ware who was embedded with the U.S. military during the Tal Afar battle told CNN, "With the greatest respect to the President, that's completely wrong." He further noted that, "I was with Iraqi units right there on the front line as they were battling with Al Qaeda. They were not leading." Most ominously, Mr. Ware revealed to CNN that: "I had had a very senior officer here in Baghdad say to me that there's never going to be a point where these guys will be able to stand up against the insurgency on their own."

How can we believe anything the Bush Administration has to say about Iraq? They claim to promote democracy but an indispensable component to a free society is an independent press. Now we're learning that the military manipulated the content of newspaper coverage in Iraq. To the average Iraqi citizen how is this any more credible than what their newspapers reported under Saddam Hussein? Of course the Bush Administration also purchased favorable news coverage of its education policies in the United States so expecting them to genuinely promote a free press in Iraq may be a stretch.

Page 20 of the Administration's glorious PDF document says: "The United Nations is also playing an important role in Iraq’s political transition, and plans to expand its capacity with hundreds of personnel located throughout the country. The Arab League, the European Union, and other important regional actors are all engaged and working to support the Iraqi political process." I seem to recall UN personnel fleeing for their lives from Iraq as the U.S. military struggled to preserve order. A viable international presence doesn't seem possible given the reality on the ground.

Sadly, I think Congressman Murtha's proposal is the only way to go. I take no pleasure in writing that. Ideally we all want peace with honor but the Bush Administration has made that impossible. A redeployment over six months as Murtha has proposed is both sensible and a reflection of reality. Congressman Murtha is renowned for having a special relationship with the Pentagon. I doubt he just pulled this proposal out of thin air. I think it likely it reflects the consensus and conventional wisdom of the military brass that are in the know. Publicly they have to reflect the Administration's views. Privately they told Mr. Murtha the truth.

What about the Administration's argument that timetables only serve to embolden the enemy? Well, they're already emboldened. As long as we're there it is impossible for moderate political forces to achieve a separate identify from American occupiers. Furthermore our presence exponentially increases the recruitment of terrorists.

Either way, whether the insurgents ultimately take power or continue to wreck havoc from the sidelines, Iraq appears headed toward becoming a base of worldwide terrorism just as Afghanistan did after the CIA left the country when the Cold War ended. Unlike what happened with Afghanistan in the nineties however, Murtha's proposal makes it possible to maintain a quick strike force that can put out terrorist brush fires and hopefully contain such a menace within Iraqi borders. This is not a perfect solution. At times we will be at odds with sovereign Iraqi power whenever we move in and take out an Iraqi terrorist cell. Also with every incursion it will reinforce the notion that the Iraqi government truly cannot stand on their own.

But that is better than a status quo of being occupiers in a land that doesn't want us there. It's also better than doing nothing as terrorists use Iraq to export and expand their operations. The best we can hope for is implementing a policy of containment inside Iraq's borders - and Murtha's redeployment plan makes that more possible. Hopefully, a quick strike force outside of Iraq but mobolized to act on a moment's notice can at least buy a newly elected government time to consolidate their institutions and get their bearings. It's not peace with honor. But it is reality and that's what is needed now.