Tuesday, October 31, 2006

No sex please, we’re Americans

Unless you are married, your government does not believe you have any business having a sex life. Of course, if you are gay or lesbian you really are out of luck since your government doesn’t believe you even have a right to marriage.

According to an article in USA TODAY by Sharon Jayson, the Bush administration is now revising guidelines specifying that states seeking grants for abstinence education programs "to identify groups ... most likely to bear children out-of-wedlock, targeting adolescents and/or adults within the 12- through 29-year-old age range." Previous guidelines didn't mention targeting of an age group.

According to Jayson,
The federal government's "no sex without marriage" message isn't just for kids anymore.

Now the government is targeting unmarried adults up to age 29 as part of its abstinence-only programs, which include millions of dollars in federal money that will be available to the states under revised federal grant guidelines for 2007.

The government says the change is a clarification. But critics say it's a clear signal of a more directed policy targeting the sexual behavior of adults.

"They've stepped over the line of common sense," said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit that supports sex education. "To be preaching abstinence when 90% of people are having sex is in essence to lose touch with reality. It's an ideological campaign. It has nothing to do with public health."

Abstinence education programs, which have focused on preteens and teens, teach that abstaining from sex is the only effective or acceptable method to prevent pregnancy or disease. They give no instruction on birth control or safe sex.

The National Center for Health Statistics says well over 90% of adults ages 20-29 have had sexual intercourse.
The proposed “marriage” amendment to Virginia’s constitution, of course, not only restricts marriage to heterosexuals only but takes away rights of unmarried couples regardless of sexual orientation. It is quite clear the attitude towards unmarried couples by certain forces in our country is one of hostility and they intend to use the government to enforce how they believe the American people should live their lives.

Win in Iraq? Well, of course.

It was great watching David Letterman stand up to that reactionary gasbag Bill O’Reilly. But I have to agree with Shadi Hamid at Democracy Arsenal that some liberals all too often fall into rhetorical traps set up for them by conservatives. When asked the simple question “Do you want the U.S. to win in Iraq?”, Letterman hesitates as if a simple affirmative answer might imply support for the disastrous Bush policy in Iraq and replies, “It’s not easy because I’m thoughtful.” The quick, simple and thoughtful response could have been, “Yes. Regardless of the reasons we invaded, we have presided over a disaster and need to stabilize that country and region to the extent possible which will mean ridding ourselves of those primarily responsible (specifically Rumsfeld and Cheney) for this disastrous policy and who squandered the initial victory, invite international involvement and assistance, talk to Iran and Syria and ask for their cooperation in Iraqi stabilization, be willing to talk with any and all parties engaged in the civil war, provide the financial resources and technical know-how to help rebuild the country, seek advice from people based upon their expertise and not on their ideology, take the pressure off the generals to spout the party line and get their honest assessments about their needs to do the job, …” etc.

O.K. Maybe that wasn’t quick or simple but it strives to be thoughtful. I’m sure there is more to add to the “yes” response. In addition, it should be pointed out that despite all the talk about victory from the Bush administration they don’t have a clue as how to do it. Soldiers and civilians are dying because this administration never admits mistakes and stays the course regardless of outcome. Empty rhetoric is not a policy let alone a plan for victory. Liberal analysis can, and should be, quite independent of whether or not Bush is calling the shots. There is nothing to hesitate about.

This from Shadi Hamid at Democracy Arsenal:

You got to respect David Letterman taking it to Bill O’Reilly on Friday night. The tense exchange was certainly fun to watch. But something that Letterman said - or didn’t say - made me feel really, really uncomfortable.

They were discussing the Iraq war. O’Reilly in his usual abrasive way asked Letterman “do you want the United States to win in Iraq?” To my surprise (and dismay), Letterman appeared totally unable to answer the question and paused, as if really having to ponder the options. O’Reilly then added that “it’s an easy question.” Letterman, in what may have seemed like a good response to daily Kossacks but in my mind was rather pathetic, replied “it’s not easy for me because I’m thoughtful.”

I’m all for nuance and embracing complexity since most things in life are not, in fact, black and white. But, come on! Do you want the US to win in Iraq? What answer could you possibly give but “yes.” Letterman’s response captures all that is wrong with the hard left’s approach to foreign policy. It’s reactionary, simple-minded and all too often descends into laughable self-parody. Moreover, if I was living in some Red State watching Letterman doing his best John Kerry impression, I would probably freak out and pull the lever for the Big Red (elephant).

Yes, I dislike O’Reilly just as much as the next liberal, but let’s not lose sense of what’s at stake here. The Iraq War is not about scoring points against conservatives – it’s about trying to do what's best for the Iraqi people who deserve and demand more than the spectacle of disaffected liberals using Iraq as an excuse for reactionary Buchanesque forays into foreign policy

Scary times

Tricks. Deceit. Fear. Election day? No, well, yes, that too but today is Halloween. Here is an interesting piece by Garrison Keillor published and broadcast on the Writer’s Almanac:

Today is Halloween, one of the oldest holidays in the Western European tradition.

Today, 70 percent of American households will open their doors and offer candy to strangers, most of them children, 50 percent of Americans will take photographs of family or friends in costume, and the nation as a whole will spend more than 6 billion dollars. In terms of dollars spent, it is the second most popular holiday of the year in this country, after Christmas.

For the Celtic people of northeastern Europe, November 1st was New Year's Day and October 31 was the last night of the year. Celts believed it was the night that spirits, ghosts, faeries, and goblins freely walked the earth. It was Pope Gregory III in the eighth century A.D. who tried to turn Halloween into a Christian holiday. Christians had been celebrating All Saints Day on May 13. Pope Gregory III decided to move the holiday to November 1st, to divert Northern Europeans from celebrating an old pagan ritual. Instead of providing food and drink to the spirits, Christians were encouraged to provide food and drink to the poor. And instead of dressing up like animals and ghosts, Christians were encouraged to dress up like their favorite saints.

In the United States, Puritans tried to outlaw Halloween, in part because of its association with Catholicism. So it was the Irish Catholics who brought Halloween to this country, when they immigrated here in great numbers after the potato famine in the 1840s. By the late 1800s, Victorian women's magazines began to offer suggestions for celebrating Halloween in wholesome ways, with barn dancing and apple bobbing. And by the early 20th century, it became a holiday for children more than adults. In 1920, The Ladies' Home Journal made the first known reference to children going door to door for candy, and by the 1950s it was a universal practice in this country. By the end of the 20th century, 92 percent of America's children were trick-or-treating.

Halloween no longer has any real connection to the festival it came from. Unlike most major holidays in this country, it is not a religious holiday, it does not celebrate an event in our nation's past, it does not involve traveling to visit family, it doesn't even give us a day off work. But it gives us the chance to try out other identities. For one day, people can feel free to dress as the opposite gender, as criminals, as superheroes, celebrities, animals, or even inanimate objects.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Global warming: The consequences for the planet of inaction are "literally disastrous".

Global warming could shrink the world economy by 20% according a British study by the economist, Sir Nicholas Stern. The study is the first major review of the effects of global warming by an economist rather than a scientist. Its release coincides with another study on the impact of the effects of greenhouse gases. Prime Minister Tony Blair said the consequences for inaction would be disastrous.

Chancellor Gordon Brown commissioned the report. Brown is in line to replace Blair at Prime Minister next year and has promised the UK will take the lead in the international arena to tackle global warming. Mr. Brown has also recruited former US Vice-President Al Gore as an environment adviser.

This from the BBC:
A report by economist Sir Nicholas Stern suggests that global warming could shrink the global economy by 20%.

But taking action now would cost just 1% of global gross domestic product, the
700-page study says.

Tony Blair said the Stern Review showed that scientific evidence of global warming was "overwhelming" and its consequences "disastrous".

The review coincides with the release of new data by the United Nations showing
an upward trend in emission of greenhouse gases - a development for which Sir Nicholas said that rich countries must shoulder most of the responsibility.

The report says that without action, up to 200 million people could become refugees as their homes are hit by drought or flood.

"Whilst there is much more we need to understand - both in science and economics - we know enough now to be clear about the magnitude of the risks, the timescale for action and how to act effectively," Sir Nicholas said.

"That's why I'm optimistic - having done this review - that we have the time and knowledge to act. But only if we act internationally, strongly and urgently."

Mr Blair said the consequences for the planet of inaction were "literally disastrous".

"This disaster is not set to happen in some science fiction future many years ahead, but in our lifetime," he said.

"Investment now will pay us back many times in the future, not just environmentally but economically as well."

"For every £1 invested now we can save £5, or possibly more, by acting now.

"We can't wait the five years it took to negotiate Kyoto - we simply don't have the time. We accept we have to go further (than Kyoto)."

The Stern Review forecasts that 1% of global gross domestic product (GDP) must be spent on tackling climate change immediately.

It warns that if no action is taken:
  • Floods from rising sea levels could displace up to 100 million people
  • Melting glaciers could cause water shortages for 1 in 6 of the world's
  • Wildlife will be harmed; at worst up to 40% of species could become
  • Droughts may create tens or even hundreds of millions of "climate

The study is the first major contribution to the global warming debate by an economist, rather than an environmental scientist.

Mr Brown, who commissioned the report, has also recruited former US Vice-President Al Gore as an environment adviser.

"In the 20th century our national economic ambitions were the twin objectives of achieving stable economic growth and full employment," Mr Brown said.

"Now in the 21st century our new objectives are clear, they are threefold: growth, full employment and environmental care."

He said the green challenge was also an opportunity "for new markets, for new jobs, new technologies, new exports where companies, universities and social enterprises in Britain can lead the world".

"And then there is the greatest opportunity of all, the prize of securing and safeguarding the planet for our generations to come."

Mr Brown called for a long-term framework of a worldwide carbon market that would lead to "a low-carbon global economy". Among his plans are:

  • Reducing European-wide emissions by 30% by 2020, and at least 60% by 2050
  • By 2010, having 5% of all UK vehicles running on biofuels
  • Creating an independent environmental authority to work with the government
  • Establishing trade links with Brazil, Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica to ensure sustainable forestry
  • Working with China on clean coal technologies
Go to the BBC article here for multiple links related to the Stern Review including this guide to climate change. Go here for a website displaying carbon dioxide emission levels of every country in the world as well as birth and death rates – in real time.

Of course, this is an election year in the United States. How many Congressional or Senate races can you name where global warming is a top issue of concern? Just asking.

The no-brainer election

In this election, there are many references to “competitive races.” The attention of the nation is focused on the handful of seats in the House of Representatives and the Senate that may actually sway the majority from one party to the other. Does anyone ever wonder why, in a country that prides itself as a democracy, that so few races are considered competitive? Why aren’t all of them competitive? The reality is the system is structured to be unrepresentative and, if that were not bad enough, the district boundaries in the House of Representatives are gerrymandered to protect incumbents.

Thus, in a year when the public overwhelming disapproves of the performance of the ruling party in the White House and both branches of congress, there is a fair chance the majority will change in the House of Representatives, slightly less than a 50/50 chance the majority will change in the Senate, and there will be no change in the leadership of the executive branch. We have many rights that are very important but our representative system of government is less of a democracy than many would like to believe – a subject explored before on this blog. Apathy is less a symptom of uninformed voters than an unresponsive system.

Despite all the system’s faults, it is the one we are stuck with and must do what we can with it because too much is at stake – Iraq, Korea, Iran, the national deficit, stem cell research, Social Security, lack of oversight by the legislative branch of the executive branch, the incredible stamp of approval for our government to use torture, etc.

Hendrik Hertzberg has some interesting observations about the upcoming elections in the current New Yorker,

The great bafflement of next week’s midterm congressional elections is that there is even a sliver of a hint of a shadow of a doubt about the outcome. The polls are unequivocal. In a mid-October NBC/Wall Street Journal survey, the public’s “job approval” of the Republican Congress stood at a wan sixteen per cent, as against seventy-five per cent disapproving. Another measurement normally regarded as electorally predictive, the one pollsters call “right track/wrong track,” is nearly as one-sided. In last week’s Newsweek survey, twenty-five per cent of respondents pronounced themselves satisfied with “the way things are going in the United States at this time,” while sixty-seven per cent registered dissatisfaction. The Newsweek poll also found that, by a 55-37 margin, likely voters generically prefer Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives to Republican ones. Those numbers are a near-mirror image of the same survey’s job rating for President Bush: thirty-five per cent approve of his performance, fifty-seven per cent disapprove of it.

In a normal democracy, given the state of public opinion and the record of the incumbent government, it would be taken for granted that come next Tuesday the ruling party would be turned out. But, for reasons that have less to do with the wizardry of Karl Rove than with the structural biases of America’s electoral machinery, Democrats enter every race carrying a bag of sand. The Senate’s fifty-five Republicans represent fewer Americans than do its forty-five Democrats. On the House side, Democratic candidates have won a higher proportion of the average district vote than Republicans in four of the five biennial elections since 1994, but—thanks to a combination of gerrymandering and demo-graphics—Republicans remain in the majority. To win back the House, Democrats need something close to a landslide. Their opponents, to judge from their behavior, seem to think they might get one.

During the past week, the foul mood of the leaders of the Republican Party and its hard-right outriders touched what one must earnestly hope was bottom. In Tennessee, where a talented, relatively conservative young Democrat, Harold Ford, Jr., is campaigning to become the first African-American senator from a Southern or border state since Reconstruction, a television ad is making a nauseating kind of political history. The ad, which appeals to a poisonous stereotype of black sexuality, is destined for a long life as a reference point in discussions of political perfidy. Its only moment of honesty—an involuntary moment, compelled by the McCain-Feingold law of 2002—is provided by a hurried off-camera voice: “The Republican National Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising.” Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh, the radio broadcaster who is the Republican Party’s most prominent unofficial spokesman, unleashed an unusually ugly attack on the integrity of the actor Michael J. Fox, who has been appearing in spots for Democratic candidates who support embryonic-stem-cell research. (In 2004, he did the same for a Republican, Senator Arlen Specter.) Fox has Parkinson’s, and it shows. Here is what Limbaugh said of one such spot: “In this commercial, he is exaggerating the effects of the disease. He is moving all around and shaking. And it’s purely an act. . . . This is really shameless of Michael J. Fox. Either he didn’t take his medication or he’s acting, one of the two.” (In reality, Fox’s body movements are a side effect of his medication, without which he is unable to speak.) And in one of the most important of next Tuesday’s contests—Virginia’s, which pits the incumbent senator, George Allen, against James Webb—Allen is employing a tactic that combines prurience with philistinism.

Allen, as the now-famous “Macaca” incident and its aftermath showed, is a bigot and a bully. Webb is a Democrat-turned-Republican—he was President Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy—whom the Iraq war turned back into a Democrat. He is a novelist by profession. At the end of last week, as a new poll showed Allen slipping behind, he put out a press release consisting of annotated snippets from Webb’s novels, which draw on his experiences and observations as a marine in Vietnam. The snippets record callous behavior, bleak sexuality, and rough talk. (To suggest that their author advocates such things is akin to saying that “Ben-Hur” is a brief for crucifixion.) Like the novels from which they are torn, the snippets are about men at war, so it is perhaps not so surprising that they are short on what Allen’s press release primly calls “positive female role models.”

There is much more along these lines, from many places, almost all of it of Republican provenance. But the most depraved pronouncement of the week came from the Vice-President of the United States, Dick Cheney. In an interview with one of three dozen right-wing radio hosts invited to spend a day broadcasting from the White House, Cheney was asked if he didn’t think it was “silly” even to debate about “dunking a terrorist in water.” “I do agree,” he replied. The interviewer pressed: “Would you agree a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?” Cheney: “It’s a no-brainer for me.”

The “dunk in water” they were talking about is waterboarding. It has been used by the Gestapo, the North Koreans, and the Khmer Rouge. After the Second World War, a Japanese soldier was sentenced to twenty-five years’ hard labor for using it on American prisoners. It is torture, and torture is not a no-brainer. It is a no-souler. The no-brainer is the choice on Election Day.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Campaign to defeat “marriage” amendment needs volunteers and money

There is a little over a week left for Virginia voters to consider the pros and cons of the amendment to Virginia’s constitution to place restrictions upon the institution of marriage and marriage-like relationships. The initial thrust of the proposal is to write discrimination against gays into the state constitution but the vague language beyond the first sentence threatens contractual and common law rights of unmarried couples also.

The proposed amendment reads:

Question: Shall Article I (the Bill of Rights) of the Constitution of Virginia be amended to state:
"That only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions.
This Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage. Nor shall this Commonwealth or its political subdivisions create or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage."?

Read the ten reasons to vote against this proposed amendment here.

The Commonwealth Coalition was formed to defeat this proposal. They are very much in need of volunteers and money. If you can volunteer, check out the volunteer opportunities here. If you can make a financial contribution, go here.

Is this election a referendum or a choice? Republicans avoid both

As Jonathan Chait explains in today’s L.A. Times, the difference between a “choice election” and a “referendum election” is that in the former voters examine each party and pick whereas in the latter they simply vote on whether or not the ruling party as done a good job or not. Political strategists will try to focus their candidate’s campaign on one or the other depending which ever is advantageous.

The general Republican effort this fall has been curious in that it seems to try to avoid both. They most certainly want to avoid a referendum election giving the mess the ruling party has presided over. However, they are also avoiding a choice election as noted by Chait:

WHEN Republicans explain their strategy for the upcoming election, the two phrases they always use are "referendum election" and "choice election" — and the latter is how they want to frame this year's vote.

A referendum election is one in which voters make their decision on the basis of whether the party in power deserves to stay there. From the Republicans' point of view, that's very bad because almost everybody believes they have failed miserably.

A choice election, on the other hand, is one in which voters weigh the two parties against each other. That kind of election gives the Republicans a fighting chance. The subtext of a choice election is: We may have screwed everything up, but the other party is worse. That's how President Bush won reelection.

In principle, the Republicans are right about this. Democracy is a process of compromises and imperfect choices. Asking the voters to compare the two sides is the right thing to do. The trouble is, that isn't really what the Republicans want to do at all.

How do I know this? Because the Democrats running for the House of Representatives actually have an agenda. Republicans aren't saying why the Democratic agenda is wrong, or why their own is better. They're just ignoring it.

If you're like most people, you probably have no idea what that agenda is. Let me list it:
• Put new rules in place to break the link between lobbyists and legislation.
• Enact all the recommendations made by the 9/11 commission.
• Raise the federal minimum wage to $7.25 an hour.
• Cut the interest rate on federally supported student loans in half.
• Allow the government to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies for lower drug prices for Medicare patients.
• Broaden the types of stem cell research allowed with federal funds.
• Impose pay-as-you-go budget rules, requiring that new entitlement spending or tax cuts be offset with entitlement spending cuts or tax hikes.

Republicans disagree with all these items. Indeed, the reason these items are on the Democratic agenda is that Republicans in Congress have blocked them from coming up for a vote. So where's the Republican rebuttal?

… Instead, we're getting things like this: GOP Rep. John Hostettler of Indiana is running an ad warning that if Democrats take power and California Democrat Nancy Pelosi becomes House speaker, she "will then put in motion her radical plan to advance the homosexual agenda, led by Barney Frank, reprimanded by the House after paying for sex with a man who ran a gay brothel out of Congressman Frank's home.

"What is the homosexual agenda? The ad does not say. (Apparently it involves raising the minimum wage and cutting the interest rate on government-backed student loans. ….)

Which is my point. Republicans don't want an actual choice election, they want to run against a mythological Democratic Party so frightening that the voters overlook all the GOP's failures.

Not all the Republican campaigns are as vicious and mindless as Hostettler's. But nearly all of those campaigns are trying to run against a boogeyman. They raise the specter of a radical Democratic agenda, but they refuse to say what they don't like about that agenda. And there's a good reason for that: It's popular.

Friday, October 27, 2006

We need to discuss the Iraq War now, not wait until after the election

Sandy Levison makes a very valid point about the Baker-Hamilton Commission studying alternatives to Iraq policy and withholding recommendations until after the election:

On the most important and divisive issue currently before the American public, they make a conscious decision to wait until after the election to make their recommendations. This suggests a monumental lack of trust in what used to
be called the democratic process. Apparently, We the People can't be trusted to get the recommendations at a time that they might actually be relevant in making choices as to whom to vote for. The Baker-Hamilton reticence is just another sign of the degradation of contemporary American politics.

This is so true and so frustrating by the elite’s distrust of democracy. President Bush says we are winning in Iraq which indicates he is either lying or being lied to by the very narrow circle of people inside the White House bubble. That doesn’t mean we can not or should not be debating this issues based upon the reality that Iraq is deteriorating and our current policy of muddling along is, at best, not working and, at worse, aggravating the situation. We need to discuss alternatives now.

Complete withdrawal is an option but it is not without many serious problems. One issue to contemplate is that as awful as things are now with sectarian fighting, they can become much worse in a full scale civil war without American troops acting as a buffer between various groups. Another issue is the self-fulfilling prophecy of Iraq or portions of Iraq (such as the region west of Bagdad) coming under control of organization, such as Al Qaeda or any of its imitators that truly intend to take the offensive against the United States and western societies

Peter Bergen, in yesterday’s New York Times, argues for keeping a number of American troops in Iraq but reordering priorities:
THE French saying, often attributed to Talleyrand, that “this is worse than a crime, it’s a blunder,” could easily describe America’s invasion of Iraq. But for the United States to pull entirely out of that country right now, as is being demanded by a growing chorus of critics, would be to snatch an unqualified disaster from the jaws of an enormous blunder.

To understand why, look to history. Vietnam often looms large in the debate over Iraq, but the better analogy is what happened in Afghanistan since the Soviet invasion. During the 1980’s, Washington poured billions of dollars into the Afghan resistance. Around the time of Moscow’s withdrawal in 1989, however, the United States shut its embassy in Kabul and largely ignored the ensuing civil war and the rise of the Taliban and its Qaeda allies. We can’t make the same mistake again in Iraq.

A total withdrawal from Iraq would play into the hands of the jihadist terrorists. As Osama bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, made clear shortly after 9/11 in his book “Knights Under the Prophet’s Banner,” Al Qaeda’s most important short-term strategic goal is to seize control of a state, or part of a state, somewhere in the Muslim world. “Confronting the enemies of Islam and launching jihad against them require a Muslim authority, established on a Muslim land,” he wrote. “Without achieving this goal our actions will mean nothing.” Such a jihadist state would be the ideal launching pad for future attacks on the West.

… there is little doubt that the botched American occupation of Iraq was the critical factor that fueled the Iraqi insurgency. But for the United States to wash its hands of the country now would give Al Qaeda’s leaders what they want.

This does not mean simply holding course. America should abandon its pretensions that it can make Iraq a functioning democracy and halt the civil war. Instead, we should focus on a minimalist definition of our interests in Iraq, which is to prevent a militant Sunni jihadist mini-state from emerging and allowing Al Qaeda to regroup.

While withdrawing a substantial number of American troops from Iraq would probably tamp down the insurgency and should be done as soon as is possible, a significant force must remain in Iraq for many years to destroy Al Qaeda in Iraq.

That can be accomplished by making the American presence less visible; withdrawing American troops to bases in central and western Iraq; and relying on contingents of Special Forces to hunt militants. To do otherwise would be to ignore the lessons of history, lessons that Al Qaeda’s leaders certainly haven’t forgotten.
I too am concerned about the repercussions of a complete withdrawal. I agree with Mr. Bergen about the danger of Al Qaeda moving into a vacuum we have created. However, contrary to Mr. Bergen, I do feel we bare some responsibility for the low-level civil war currently being waged that could break out into full scale bloodletting at anytime as well as the rampant crime. We owe the Iraqi people more than to leave them with this mess.

Exactly what the solution is, I don’t know. I do know I wish there was more debate about alternatives prior to this election.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Will Virginia repeat Ohio problems created by ban on relationships similar to marriage?

Two years ago the voters of Ohio passed an amendment to their state constitution very similar to the one Virginia voters will face in two weeks. The language beyond the simple ban on same sex marriages has created legal problems for people in unmarried relationships.

This article is in today’s Washington Post:
Last year, an Ohio man accused of abusing his girlfriend tried a unique defense: He argued that the domestic violence law under which he was charged conflicted with a new constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and other relationships that sought to "approximate" marriage.

Michael Carswell's case wound its way through the legal system and is now before the Ohio Supreme Court. It has touched off similar challenges to domestic violence statutes in the state. Two appellate courts found that the constitutional amendment exempts unmarried couples from prosecution under domestic violence laws, but eight courts have ruled otherwise.

Yesterday, people who work with victims of domestic violence in Virginia warned that Carswell's case -- and dozens of similar challenges that followed in Ohio -- could put Virginia in a similar legal limbo if voters pass a similarly worded constitutional amendment Nov. 7.

The ballot question before Virginia voters bans same-sex marriages and civil unions but also would prohibit the state from recognizing relationships intended to "approximate the design, qualities, significance or effects of marriage." That language is nearly identical to the text of the Ohio constitutional amendment, which was passed in November 2004. Opponents in Virginia have said that the state is sure to see similar challenges, which could prevent victims from receiving protection while such challenges are litigated.
Read the entire article here. To volunteer or to make a contribution to defeat this amendment, go to the Commonwealth Coalition web site.

When tyranny is replaced by anarchy and civil war

The Iraqi tyranny has been deposed and that indeed is a noble deed. However, it has been replaced by Iraqi anarchy and civil war as a result of corruption and incompetence of the leadership of the liberating forces. For that we, and the people of the Middle East, will suffer for years to come. We have become less secure and their society is plunged into chaos.

Timothy Garton Ash offers these thoughts in today’s Guradian:

'They died in vain." Four words that are unbearable for the mother of a dead soldier and shaming for the politicians who sent them to their deaths. So our leaders say "they did not die in vain". But who now believes them?

Contemplating the scale of the American-British failure in Iraq, I have been struggling to see if there are any future circumstances, any lines of long-term strategic action, which would one day enable us honestly and credibly to say to the mother of a soldier who died in Iraq: "Your son did not die in vain." At the moment, that seems nearly impossible.

Yes, our troops removed a very nasty tyranny, to widespread initial rejoicing among the people of Iraq. For some Iraqis - especially Kurds and Shia - some things about their lives have got better. People who were in prison or in exile are now at home. Millions of Iraqis turned out to vote for political parties of their choice, despite intimidation. They have incomparably more free media than before and less reason to fear repression from the central state. A few have prospered. In places, the occupying powers have done major reconstruction work. But that's about all one can say on the plus side; the minus list is so much longer.

As Patrick Cockburn, a writer with rare in-depth knowledge of Iraq, chronicles in his new book The Occupation, the dimensions of our failure over more than 40 months of occupation are breathtaking. It starts with the most basic services. Despite the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars, US government witnesses told the Senate foreign relations committee earlier this year that the performance of the Iraqi electricity, water, sewage and oil sectors is still below pre-invasion levels. The economy is worse in many respects than it was before. Instead of going in fear of Saddam's secret police and torturers, people go in fear of gangs, militias, criminals and fanatics.

To exchange tyranny for anarchy is merely to move from one circle of hell to another. As one Iraqi recently commented: under Saddam we had a state, a bad state, but to have no state is even worse. Even if the Johns Hopkins University estimate of some 600,000 Iraqi civilian deaths since the invasion is an overestimate, extrapolating from too small a sample, the number of Iraqi civilian deaths is horrendous. The country is already in civil war. As foreign troops leave, that's almost certain to get worse before it perhaps - but only perhaps - gets better, if Shia, Kurd and Sunni leaders, and their foreign patrons, can hammer out a compromise based on a more or less disintegrated confederal state. And that's only the story inside Iraq. In the world at large, the balance-sheet is even worse. An intervention that was intended to make the world safer for democracy has made the world more dangerous for all democracies. The United States' own recently released National Intelligence Estimate confirmed that Iraq has become a "cause celebre" for terrorists. It has infuriated Muslims in our own countries, including the London bombers of July 7. By distracting forces and attention from our original, legitimate mission to extirpate al-Qaida's bases in Afghanistan, it has allowed the Taliban to regroup and come back in force there. It has turned a militant, Islamist Iran into a regional winner, increasing the likelihood that it will try to develop nuclear weapons. It has made the United States more unpopular around the world than at any time since reliable polling began and dramatically decreased the United
States' capacity to get its way. North Korea, for example, cocks a nuclear snook at Washington. So much for "the world's only hyperpower".

… Can we accept that this "war" against terrorism, like the cold war, will never be won by military means? Do we have the confidence to engage diplomatically with everyone in the region, including Iran and Syria, beginning a regional security negotiation comparable to the Helsinki process in 1970s Europe? Can we - working with Arab and Iranian dissidents and intellectuals - craft policies of "offensive detente" towards both the states and societies of the Muslim world and sustain those policies over a generation? Or will the United States simply cut and run, retreating into its own vast carelessness (to adapt a memorable phrase from Scott Fitzgerald), and, under its next president, adopt a new, unhappy mixture of isolationism and so-called realism? If the former, we may yet, in decades to come, have available some honest words of comfort to the still grieving mother. If the latter, there will be no honest consolation.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Let the Iraqi people decide

As the Bush administration thrashes about defending it actions and inactions as the situation in Iraq worsens, the Maliki government feels it is being undermined by U.S. officials and rumors have floated about a possible replacement of the Maliki government with a regime of a more authoritarian type. This, of course, would run counter to the objective of helping establish a democratic government in this country.

Johann Hari has some thoughts on these recent developments:
… There are ever-louder whispers from Washington that the Bush administration is considering junking the (very) limited democracy Iraq now has, sacking the Prime Minister, and installing a junta of “national unity” generals to “impose order”. These rumours are so advanced that last week, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki felt obliged to publicly ask George Bush for reassurances they were not true. Indeed, the imposition of stringent targets on Maliki from Washington this week – as though Iraq were an NHS trust in Bangor – rests on this potential coup d’etat as a threat: if Maliki fails to meet the targets, what will happen?

This Iraq-needs-a-dictator approach is based on a false analysis of
what has gone wrong since the war, one that is strangely shared by some parts of
the anti-war movement. As Bush’s team moots installing a strong-man, Piers
Morgan, whose Daily Mirror was one of the most prominent voices against the war, recently said if he was still in charge of the paper he would be leading one
last Iraq campaign: “Bring back Saddam.” Their argument is that Iraq is an
irredeemably tribal society, always on the brink of fracturing into a
Shia-vs-Sunni-vs-Kurd conflagration. This ethnic chaos needs an iron fist to
keep it in order – an Arab Tito. Even a sliver of democracy is the problem.
Dictatorship is the solution.

But to suggest that the emergence of a violent tribalism in Iraq was
the inevitable after-effect of ending Saddamism is to actually let the Bush
administration off the hook. It took more than two years – and a huge amount of
violence directed by unrepresentative militias, against Shia and Sunni mosques,
marketplaces and shrines – for Iraqis to turn on each other in significant
numbers. Even now, a large majority of all three Iraqi communities – according
to every poll – still believe in a unified Iraq under an elected government.

Tribalism has taken this toxic form because of the total economic
collapse of Iraq overseen by Bush. His administration immediately and
undemocratically imposed on Iraq the opposite of a Marshall Plan, a deflationary
Republican wet dream: privatize everything immediately, impose a flat tax, slash
the public sector to pieces. Everywhere this has been tried, from Argentina to
Russia, it has led to total economic collapse. Create a situation where
unemployment hits 70 percent in any country and people will look to tribes they
barely think about in better times. If only a third of Brits had jobs and bombs
were going off everywhere, we would fracture into warring white, Asian and black tribes too. Would we start saying Britain was an irredeemably tribal society
that could only be ruled by a dictator?

So the emerging Bushite narrative about Iraq – hey folks, we nobly
tried democracy but it turns out they’re just too damn tribal and they need a
tough guy after all – is wrong and repellent. For people like Piers Morgan who
have been vindicated on the war to fall for this now is an Act Three tragedy.

Indeed, the Bush administration has been deliberately scuppering
attempts to end tribal warfare. Earlier this year, Prime Minister Maliki
carefully crafted a 28-point national reconciliation package modelled on
post-Apartheid South Africa. Militias would be pardoned, their colleagues
released from jail, and their arms handed in. All the major groups expressed
interest – but the Bush administration smothered it at birth by refusing to
agree to the basic demand of most militias, a timetable for withdrawal of
foreign troops.

This withdrawal is now inevitable, and soon. The only question is
whether our governments leave very quickly of their own choice, or are chased
out of the Green Zone like the last helicopters from Saigon. The shape of one
possible Bush withdrawal strategy is now becoming clear, and it’s not hard to
smell the suplhorous influence of Henry Kissinger – who has been outed by Bob
Woodward as Bush’s new mentor – on it. Install a friendly CIA-backed dictator
who will iron out Iraq’s creases (no need to ask about the messy tactics, boys)
and ensure the oil keeps flowing.

This access to oil supplies was always the primary goal of the Bush
team. As long ago as 1991 – back when the only thing George W. Bush tortured was the English language – Dick Cheney said about Iraq, “We’re there because the
fact of the matter is that part of the world controls the world supply of oil.”
Wolfowitzian talk of spreading democracy was a sugar-coating, easily burned

In opposition to this strategy-of-sorts, many people propose to leave
immediately. I have some sympathy for this, but it has a big flaw: the departure
would be seen as a victory for the mainly sectarian and fundamentalist
resistance groups. It would increase their power and prestige in Iraq’s post-war

I think there is a better way to achieve a very swift exit. It is for
the occupying forces to hold a referendum, within one month, asking the Iraqi
people – do you want the foreign troops to remain for another year, or should
they leave now? The answer Iraqis will give is pretty obvious: in the latest
poll, 82 percent opted for immediate withdrawal. But if the Iraqi people have a
chance to give the purple finger to the occupiers as bravely as they did to the
suicide-murderers last year, then the Anglo-American exit will become a victory
for them and for the ballot box, not for jihadism. It will maximise their
(horribly slim) chances of slowly patching together a more decent country from
the militia-splinters into which it has fragmented.

Arguing for this quick democratic exit against the Kissingerian
proposals of George Bush might be the last thing we can do for the Iraqi people,
along with finally holding our leaders accountable for the crimes – the chemical
weapons, the torture – they have committed in the course of this

PBS programs on marriage amendment in Richmond and Charlottesville

"Irreconcilable Differences: Defining Marriage in Virginia" is a documentary exploring the controversial Marshall-Newman amendment to the Virginia constitution restricting marriage and marriage-like relationships.

The program will tell the personal stories of two Virginia families, one gay and one straight, who believe that they will be affected by this amendment. The program will also explore the underlying principles and beliefs of select Virginians on each side of the issue, including legislators, clergy and activists

It premieres Thursday, October 26 at 8 PM Richmond’s PBS affiliate, WCVE and Charlottesville’s WHTJ (other dates and times include: Nov. 1, 11:00 pm, Nov. 4, 4:00 am, Nov. 5, 2:00 pm, and Nov. 6, 1:00 am). The show profiles couples, legislators, and ministers on both sides of the issue.

Following the documentary at 9:00 p.m. will be a special live edition of Virginia Currents with panelists from both sides of the debate to discuss Ballot Question #1. Titled “Marriage and Religion”, they will also be accepting calls from the audience during the one-hour show.

War without public sacrifice

We are told over and over again the current conflict in Iraq is tied to a larger war against terrorists and this is the challenge of a generation not unlike WWII. However, during WWII sacrifices were asked and expected of everyone whether it be service in the armed services, taxes, rationing, conservation, wage and price controls, etc. The challenge to our generation has resulted in tax cuts and no sacrifices asked of us other than to vote Republican.

Does anyone wonder why there is a sense of detachment by the American people from this conflict in the Middle East?

This from Richard Stern at the New Republic’s Open University blog following President Bush’s press conference this morning:
I've just heard President Bush's not ineloquent description of the war that the rational, peace-loving people of the world are waging against the evil murderers who hate liberty, democracy, and peace. He speaks of this as a war very different from but comparable in importance to the war against fascism which concluded the year before he was born. I was alive and aware during that war, and as far as quality of national life goes, it did not resemble the life we are leading now. Like almost every boy in my class, I did such things as collected and rolled tin foil into supposedly usable balls and when in the country, had a small "victory garden" where I raised a few radishes. My mother rolled bandages down at the Red Cross. My uncles were either in war-related businesses (the silk business which was involved in parachute making) or volunteering their time at the Office of Price Administration. Uniforms were everywhere, the trains were packed with soldiers, the stations tense with
heartrending farewells. Everyone you knew was somehow connected with the war: Your cousins were fighting in North Africa, Sicily, the Pacific; your friends'
older brothers and parents were far away and mailing the thin blue email letters
back home. Almost everyone followed the day's battleground events, charted the
progress or retreats on the map, knew the casualty figures, cheered and booed
the political leaders in the newsreels. Total war.

Today, the war is something on the television news, the occasional
press conferences, the newspapers. Few are in uniform. I know no one fighting in
Iraq or Afghanistan and whenever I hear of someone's nephew or cousin fighting,
I'm a bit more engaged than I otherwise would be. In World War II, President
Roosevelt's sons were in the army. Indeed, 18 year old G. H.W. Bush volunteered
as a pilot and postponed his life at Yale. Is there anyone in his son's large
family serving in the military? Have none of them been persuaded by his
eloquence and force to volunteer to fight in the great cause he espouses?

And the rest of us? Oh yes, we were aroused on that amazing day in
September when the two great towers disintegrated before our eyes and for a few
days afterward we digested a new turn in the life of the nation and perhaps, to
a small degree, in our own lives. But now? Weariness, disgust, anger,

How do we phase out of foreign troops from Iraq?

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Gen. George Casey both have proposed a security transfer to Iraqis within twelve to eighteen months that would include the demobilizing of militias, sharing oil revenues and a national compact among sectarian factions. As David Ignatius points out in this morning’s Washington Post, it all looks sensible on paper but in the real world the approach has not been working.

One of the failures of this whole endeavor has been the failure for planning for the post Saddam Hussein Iraq. This only emphasizes the need for planning for the ultimate phasing out of foreign troops from Iraqi soil that will do the most to enhance stability and safety for the Iraqi people and the least amount of damage to U.S. interests. This will not be easy.

David Ignatius looks at the issue:
Some months ago, former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski
was explaining to a senior Bush administration official his plan for a phased
withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq over 12 months, in consultation with the
Iraqis. "We're going to do the same thing," the senior official confided, "but
we're going to call it victory."

This week it became official: The Bush administration's Iraq policy
is no longer "stay the course" but, in the phrase of White House spokesman Tony
Snow, "a study in constant motion." The reality, as near as I can tell, is that
the administration isn't sure yet where to move after the November elections.
Nor are most of the administration's critics. Major newspapers carried
editorials or op-eds this week advocating some version of "change the course,"
but they were vaporous when it came to details.

In the weeks after the election, the debate in Washington will
focus on two promising exit ramps. But it's important not to attach unrealistic
hopes to either one.

The first path is a more federal Iraq -- with power devolved to the
Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish regions. But this presupposes a national government
strong enough to formulate rules for, say, the sharing of oil revenue. If such a
national framework existed, Iraq wouldn't be such a mess in the first place.
Another tricky problem is stabilizing the Sunni areas that would be a potential
safe haven for terrorists. If the Iraqi army can't control these areas, the only
alternative may be, in effect, a Sunni militia drawn from the ranks of the
insurgency. U.S. officials have been meeting secretly outside Iraq with
insurgent leaders in an effort to draw them into such a framework.

The second exit ramp passes through Iran and Syria. Talking with
Tehran and Damascus could be helpful in stabilizing Iraq, but we should
recognize at the outset that their influence is limited -- and that it may carry
an unacceptable price. Iran's goal in Iraq is a decisive Shiite victory and
Sunni submission, but that's a formula for continuing civil war -- and in any
event, it's not an agenda the United States should endorse. Syria could be
helpful in curbing al-Qaeda in Iraq, but there are limits and drawbacks to
Syrian power -- as was clear during its long and brutal occupation of

The real opportunity presented by the Baker-Hamilton process is
that it's bipartisan. To get most American troops out of Iraq over the next year
will require more patience at home, and a lot less partisan bickering. And our
politicians will need strong stomachs: They must manage an orderly retreat under
fire. There is a path out of this mess, but we will be lying if we call it

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Focus on the Family praying for the outcome of midterm elections

James Dobson’s Focus on the Family organization is promoting a National Day of Prayer to pray for the outcome of the upcoming midterm elections. Focus on the Family has become well known for its rightwing views cloaked as “family values.” The organization has a fair amount of influence with Congress and the White House.

According to their press release:
The National Day of Prayer (NDP) Task Force is urging all American
Christians to pray for the outcome of the upcoming midterm elections.

Jim Weidmann, vice chairman of the NDP Task Force, said the Pray
for Election Day campaign is aimed at helping citizens understand their role in
the electoral process.

"In a Christian nation, we have the biblical responsibility as well
as the patriotic responsibility to cast our vote for those who govern us," he
said. "We want people to spend time praying that those who are elected will
align themselves with God's laws. We also want them to get out and vote so the
Christian understanding is captured in the vote."

The Pray for Election Day Web site is key to the effort. Visitors
will discover suggestions on what to pray for — and can even record the fact
that they prayed. Event organizers have also earmarked Nov. 5 as a day for all
believers to pray and fast for the outcome of all the races on the Nov. 7

By going to the polls, believers are taking advantage of the chance
to elect men and women who share their beliefs on important issues, Weidmann

"It is important to understand the issues with each of the
candidates so voters understand where they fall — so they can align themselves
with candidates who align with their Christian values and beliefs," he said.
"And then pray obviously that those might be elected."

Some Christians may feel like Congress and President Bush haven't
accomplished much in the way of legislation backed by values voters, but
Weidmann said that means it is even more important to be involved in the process
— especially with so many states voting on ballot measures on such important
topics as protecting one-man, one-woman marriage.

"And what happens is that prayer really stands out amongst
everything else that they receive."

President Bush is a prime example of the power of prayer for
elected officials, he said.

"He is very, very open in talking about his dependence on those who
pray for him," Weidmann said. …

After the election: what next?

Right now is appears likely the Democrats will earn a small majority in the House of Representatives in elections two weeks from now. Who will rule the Senate after November 7th is too close to call at this time but whichever party wins will rule by a narrow margin. Of course, the White House remains in Republican control for two more years.

All of this raises the question of how we will govern ourselves for the next two years. The ruling party in whichever branch of Congress or the White House can try to force its agenda through. Another possibility is complete gridlock. However, there remains a third possibility – bipartisan cooperation. Given the current political climate, this will require some willingness to compromise not only by elected officials but also by their constituents. Issues like North Korea and Social Security have been ignored too long and need attention with solutions as close to a consensus as possible.

Jordan Tama in the PSA Blog offers a few suggestions to at least start the dialog:
…the country would be better served if elected officials more often
sought consensus on national security issues, rather than only using them to
score political points. This is much easier said than done—and it’s particularly
easily said by someone like me who does not hold public office. So instead of
just offering moral exhortation, I’d like to make a few concrete

1) Employ more advisory commissions. Bodies like the 9/11 Commission can play a unique role in building consensus on contentious issues by facilitating frank discussion among an ideologically diverse and respected group of people. Congress and the administration recognized this valuable role of commissions in establishing the Iraq Study Group earlier this year. At a time when policymakers don’t agree about what to do in Iraq, the study group’s bipartisan character gives it the potential to rally broad public support around a new set of carefully considered proposals. The country might benefit from the establishment of similar bodies to make recommendations on thorny issues such as U.S. policy toward North Korea, Iran, and Darfur.

2) Create vibrant public media. The ideological balkanization of public debate is fostered by the relative poverty of American public media. PBS and NPR do much excellent work, but their limited resources hamper their capacity to develop innovative programming. I think we should be investing far more in public media—not just so that PBS and NPR can expand what they already do, but so that they, or other entities, can develop dynamic and cutting-edge programs that appeal to people who find them uninteresting today, while preserving their nonpartisan and educational character.

3) Establish nonpartisan seating arrangements in Congress. I borrow this idea from a comment on Victoria’s post by MMS from WA. If members of the House and Senate were required to sit on the floor of Congress and in committee rooms in alphabetical order, rather than by party affiliation, they might get to know members of the other party a little better. Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton
explain in Without Precedent that they employed a variant of this approach in
9/11 Commission meetings, requiring seats to alternate between Republicans and
Democrats. This simple change would be far from a cure-all for corrosive
partisanship, but it might encourage people of different political stripes to
engage with each other more—and even, dare I suggest, to become

It’s either “stay-the-course” or fire Rumsfeld

The situation in Iraq is deteriorating to the point that even members of the majority party are acknowledging U.S. policy is a train wreck. This from the Associated Press:

"We're on the verge of chaos, and the current plan is not working," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in an Associated Press interview. U.S. and Iraqi officials should be held accountable for the lack of progress, said
Graham, a Republican who is a frequent critic of the administration's policies.

Asked who in particular should be held accountable _ Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, perhaps, or the generals leading the war _ Graham said: "All of them. It's their job to come up with a game plan" to end the violence

Frustration with the war is eroding support in Republican as well
as Democratic camps.

Joseph Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, said two Republicans have told him they will demand a new policy in
Iraq after the election. Biden declined to name the GOP lawmakers. He said
Republicans have been told not to make waves before the election because it
could cost the party seats. Yet some prominent GOP lawmakers have expressed
doubts about Bush's policy.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said the United States was
continually adjusting its strategy in Iraq.

"In that sense there are new things going on. But are there dramatic shifts in policy? The answer is no," Snow said.

"There is still a very large to-do list before Iraq is in a position to sustain, govern and defend itself," he said.

"Are we issuing ultimatums? No."

He acknowledged, however, that Bush no longer is saying that the
United States will "stay the course" in Iraq.

"He stopped using it," Snow said of that phrase, adding that it left the impression that the administration was not adjusting its strategy to realities in Baghdad.

Abandoning the slogan, stay-the-course, is hardly a policy change. This administration keeps talking about victory in Iraq yet does nothing to win. The vacuum we created by failing to do the critical political work as well as the physical reconstruction in Iraq in the months following the overthrow of Sadam Hussein was a window of opportunity allowed to slip through our fingers by the incompetence and corruption of the Coalition Provisional Authority. The title of Larry Diamond’s book, Squandered Victory, sums it up.

The question is what to do now. There are no good or easy solutions. However, whatever is to be done cannot be done under the current leadership primarily responsible for this mess. If President Bush cares as all for the American soldiers in the field as well as the Iraqi people then he must fire Donald Rumsfeld immediately.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Two upcoming debates on Marriage Amendment in Richmond area

Two debates on the Virginia’s proposed Marriage Amendment will be held this week in Richmond.

The first will be tonight, Monday, October 23rd at the University of Richmond School of Law starting at 6:00 p.m. Debaters will be John S. Edwards, Senate of Virginia, 21st District and Robert G. Marshall, Virginia House of Delegates, 13th District. The moderator will be Jeff Schapiro, Political Reporter, Richmond Times Dispatch.

The second will be tomorrow afternoon, Tuesday, October 24th at at the Student Commons of Virginia Commonwealth University starting at 4:00. The featured panel will include Delegate Bob Marshall, Amendment Co-sponsor, Claire Castanaga, Commonwealth Coalition, Geoff Dankert, Natl. Gay/Lesbian Journalists, Pat McSweeney, Attorney.

Both events are free and open to the public.

To volunteer your time or make a financial contribution go to the Commonweath Coalition website.

Don’t they ever talk?

Don’t you love it when father and son communicate to one another via the national media? Wouldn’t it be easier to pick up the telephone? This from today’s Washington Post:
President Bush gently admonished his father for saying he hates to think what life will be like for his son if the Democrats win control of Congress in the Nov. 7 election.

"He shouldn't be speculating like this, because -- he should have called me ahead of time and I'd tell him they're not going to [win]," a smiling Bush said during an interview broadcast yesterday on the ABC program "This Week."

It follows the recent release of a book, "State of Denial," by Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, which says the 82-year-old former president, George H.W. Bush, was "anguished" over how the Iraq war has played out, although he has dismissed that account.

Bush’s God problem

How does the democratic process work when the commander in chief claims to have a direct line to God. Former German Chancellor Schröder explains in his memoirs how the President’s religious beliefs get in the way of working out real world solutions to real world problems. This from the London Times:
In extracts from his memoirs to be published in Der Spiegel magazine, Herr Schröder explains what went wrong and why it will be difficult for the President to make peace.

“Again and again in our private talks it became clear how
God-fearing this President was and how ruled he was by what he saw as a Higher Power,” says Herr Schröder in the memoirs, Decisions: My Life In Politics.

“The problem begins when political decisions seem to result from a conversation with God. If you legitimise political decisions in this way, then you cannot respond to criticism or suggestions by changing policies or introducing nuances.”

The former Chancellor, an agnostic, seems to consider President Bush to be a Christian fundamentalist, and as such less likely to make the compromises needed to end the conflict in Iraq.

“We rightly criticise that in most Islamic states there is no clear separation between religion and the rule of law,” he says. “But we fail to recognise that, in the US, the Christian fundamentalists and their interpretation of the Bible have similar tendencies.

“If both sides claim to be in possession of the only valid truth, then there is no room for manoeuvre.”

Saturday, October 21, 2006

How many will die in Iraq until after the elections so the White House can save face?

The tough guy talk is now on hold. Rumsfeld and Chenney are locked away somewhere out of public view until after the elections. And President Bush concedes “it’s tough” for American policy in Iraq.

This from the Associated Press:

President Bush conceded Friday that "right now it's tough" for American
forces in Iraq, but the White House said he would not change U.S. strategy in
the face of pre-election polls that show voters are upset.

With Republicans anxious about the potential loss of Congress - and
with conditions seemingly deteriorating in Iraq - Bush addressed the question of
whether he would alter his policies.

"We are constantly adjusting our tactics so that we achieve the
objective, and right now it's tough, it's tough," Bush said in an Associated
Press interview.

Despite calls for change, Bush said, "Our goal has not changed. Our
goal is a country that can defend, sustain and govern itself, a country that
which will serve as an ally in this war. Our tactics are adjusting."

Of course, as Andrew Sullivan points out, democracy is now missing from the goals. Back to the AP:

Presidential spokesman Tony Snow said that while Bush might change
tactics, he would not change his overall strategy.

"He's not somebody who gets jumpy at polls," Snow said of Bush.

Bush, at a political fundraiser in Washington for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, railed against Democrats who criticize the war.
Calling the Democrats the party of "cut and run," Bush said voters need to ask:
"Which political party has a strategy for victory in this war on terror?'"

Good question. The answer is obviously not the Republican Party. The AP continues:
As of Friday, the U.S. combat death toll in Iraq during October
stood at 75 - possibly heading for the highest for any month in nearly two
years. Now in its fourth year, the war has claimed the lives of at least 2,786
Americans. Approval of Bush's handling of Iraq has dipped to 37 percent among
likely voters in the AP-Ipsos poll early this month, down slightly from 41
percent last month.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the Iraqi government must
become less reliant on the United States to handle security. He also said U.S.
officials are working with the Iraqis to develop projections on when that might

"It's their country, they're going to have to govern it, they're going to have to provide security for it, and they're going to have to do it sooner rather than later," Rumsfeld said.

"The biggest mistake would be to not pass things over to the Iraqis, create a dependency on their part, instead of developing strength and capacity and competence," he said.

Doubts about the effectiveness of current tactics have risen, and the U.S. military has said its two-month drive to crush insurgent and militia violence in Baghdad has fallen short. Attacks in Baghdad rose by 22 percent in the first three weeks of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, compared with the three previous weeks.

On Friday, the Shiite militia run by the anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr briefly seized control of the southern Iraqi city of Amarah in one of the most brazen acts of defiance yet by the country's powerful, unofficial armies. Tom Casey, deputy spokesman at the State Department, said the United States was urging the Iraqis to make sure that security in Amarah was returned to the government.

"The flare-up of violence in Amarah points out that our strategy to quell the violence in that country is failing," said Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.

The Baker-Hamilton commission will likely strongly recommend some major change in course and we can only hope this includes the firing of Donald Rumsfeld. Whether you are angry for the reasoning for going into Iraq or supported the invasion but are upset about the failure to stabilize the situation and achieve “victory” or are upset with the current strategy of just muddling along with no clear objective and withdrawal plan, you should be angry at the mastermind and executor of this whole mess – Donald Rumsfeld.

Unfortunately, the Baker-Hamilton commission will hold their recommendations until after the U.S. elections three weeks away. Changes in policy or strategy that could make a life or death difference for our soldiers or Iraqi civilians is being held back so the White House can safe face before the election. I would like to know what the White House will be saying to the families of those soldiers who will lose their lives in the next three weeks.

To keep track of those American soldiers dying in the coming weeks, Spencer Ackerman is printing the Pentagon press releases with the names of the dead on his blog. Just look for the title of “What gives you the right to fuck with our lives.”

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Tet offensive and Iraq

A couple of nights ago President Bush was interviewed by George Stephanopoulos on ABC News. When asked about a recent newspaper column by Thomas Friedman comparing the current state of fighting in Iraq with Tet offensive in Vietnam in 1968, Bush indicated he thought that might be accurate. According to ABC,

Stephanopoulos asked whether the president agreed with the opinion of
columnist Tom Friedman, who wrote in The New York Times today that the situation
in Iraq may be equivalent to the Tet offensive in Vietnam almost 40 years

"He could be right," the president said, before adding, "There's
certainly a stepped-up level of violence, and we're heading into an

"George, my gut tells me that they have all along been trying to
inflict enough damage that we'd leave," Bush said. "And the leaders of al Qaeda
have made that very clear. Look, here's how I view it. First of all, al Qaeda is
still very active in Iraq. They are dangerous. They are lethal. They are trying
to not only kill American troops, but they're trying to foment sectarian
violence. They believe that if they can create enough chaos, the American people
will grow sick and tired of the Iraqi effort and will cause government to

The problem is Mr. Bush has learned the wrong lesson about Tet. There is a conventional wisdom that while the U.S. won a military victory, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong won the psychological victory souring the American public on the war perhaps with the help of the liberal media. The problem with that analysis is what the American people soured on was less the fighting than being lied to about the fighting. Americans have been through many wars and are willing to make sacrifices when the national leadership is being straight with them. Americans were told repeatedly told things were going well and there “was a light at the end of the tunnel.” If you come to believe the national leadership is either dishonest or out of touch you are hardly inspired to send your son off to fight.

This is Alan Wolfe’s take on the Tet analogy,

… The recent upsurge in violence associated with the insurgency in Iraq
is the Tet Offensive all over again. Tet, we are told, was a military defeat for
the North Vietnamese but a psychological victory. Our enemies knew they could
not win on the battlefield and decided to change American public opinion

This analysis is nonsense on stilts. There is no "military" theatre
over here and "psychological" campaign over there. …. The notion that we "won"
the Tet offensive is designed to keep alive the dangerous illusion that
Americans never lose wars. In fact, we lost Vietnam and we are clearly on the
cusp of losing Iraq. We could not win in either case because the people we were
fighting against were able to mobilize more overall resources on behalf of their
cause than we were on behalf of ours. …

And Kevin Drum puts it this way,
… There have always been at least three competing historical
perspectives about Tet:

1. There's the military perspective: Tet was a huge setback for the North Vietnamese. They were badly defeated, took huge losses, were operationally crippled, and achieved none of their objectives.
2. There's the liberal media perspective: Even though we won, the left-wing press spun it as a defeat. That's why the public lost faith in the war.
3. There's the government mendacity perspective: For some time, LBJ had been assuring us that the war was going well and the Viet Cong were on the verge of collapse. Tet demonstrated that he was either lying or else completely divorced from reality.

I've always sided with #3. There's no question that #1 is technically correct, but in practice it simply meant that Giáp was vindicated in his preference for guerrilla warfare over conventional offensives. North Vietnam was fully able to continue prosecuting the war. And while the press was indeed gloomy about U.S. prospects after Tet, that was almost certainly because of #3, not #2. Walter Cronkite, the most famous of the pessimists, stated this clearly: "We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest cloud." He concluded — correctly — not that we had lost, but that we were "mired in a stalemate."

But #3 is surely not the analogy that George Bush had in mind. So
which one is it? Is it #1, in which case he's convinced that this is a last
ditch effort by the insurgents and we're on the verge of a famous victory? Is it
#2, in which case he's laying the groundwork for a future claim that we could
have won if only the media hadn't been against us?

Or does he have no real clue, and just figures that any two battles in which the enemy demonstrates increased strength are pretty much the same
thing? …

More greenhouse gases = more storms, droughts and heat waves

We can look forward to more storms, droughts and heat waves according to a new study examining the impact of greenhouse gases on the earth. Greenhouse gas emissions come largely from the burning of gasoline, coal and other fossil fuels.

This is from today’s L.A. Times:
Much of the world, including the drought-plagued American West, will
face more deadly heat waves, intense rainstorms and prolonged dry spells before the end of the century, according to a new climate change study released Thursday.

Focusing not on averages but on extremes, the new research draws on
nine climate models to predict what will happen if worldwide greenhouse gases
keep increasing.

Longer periods of high heat and heavy rainfall are predicted for nearly
all areas by 2080 to 2099. In addition, dry periods will last longer in the
Southwestern United States, southern Europe and several other areas, the
scientists reported.


"In the future, rising frequency, intensity and duration of
temperature extremes … are likely to have adverse effects on human mortality and
morbidity," says the scientists' report, "Going to Extremes," which will be
published in the December issue of the journal Climatic Change. "Changes in
precipitation-related extremes such as heavy rainfall and associated flooding
also have the potential to [cause] significant economic losses and

The federally funded analysis is among the first to use supercomputer
simulations developed in the U.S., Japan, France and Russia for an international
committee of scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate


The scenarios were based on three projections in volumes of greenhouse
gas emissions, which come largely from the burning of gasoline, coal and other
fossil fuels.

Even under the lowest-emissions scenario, more extreme events were
predicted, although the trend was significantly weaker. That means reducing
greenhouse gas emissions will lower the risk of severe heat waves and heavy


Wetter weather was one of the most significant and consistent patterns
that showed up in the modeling, the study shows.

"Depictions of a wetter world and greater precipitation intensity
emerge unequivocally," the report says.

Extra precipitation is tied to global warming because warm oceans
evaporate more and warm air holds more moisture.

The higher latitudes, above 40 degrees north — in the United States,
north of Reno, Denver and Philadelphia — are expected to feel the most effects
of more extreme precipitation.

"We see increases in precipitation intensity almost everywhere, but
particularly at higher latitudes," said co-author Gerald Meehl, a scientist in
the National Center for Atmospheric Research's climate and global dynamics

Along with more precipitation, more days will pass between rain events
in the Southwest, he said.

"The reason these can both happen simultaneously is that you can have
longer dry spells between rainfall events, but when it does rain, it rains
harder," Meehl said.


In the Southwest, the more frequent heat waves would be caused by
changes in atmospheric circulation created by greenhouse gases.

Other changes that were called pronounced in the models include a
longer growing season and fewer frost days in the Northwestern U.S. and Eastern
Europe, and more heat waves in Northern Australia.

The scientists looked at 10 indicators of extremes: heat wave duration,
the difference between a year's high and low temperatures, growing season
length, frost days, warm nights and five factors involving

Other recent studies have predicted more widespread wildfires,
droughts, and die-offs of plants and wildlife.

Although scientists say global temperatures have already increased, the
report says the rate will be magnified.

Generally, the more greenhouse gases that are emitted, "the more
extreme things get," Meehl said. He warned, however, that "it's not a simple
linear relationship"; if gases decline 20% that doesn't mean there is an
equivalent decline in the effect, because localized phenomena guide climate
extremes. Still, even small declines, he said, mean fewer

Gallery 41 at First Unitarian Universalist Church in Richmond, Virginia

This is a public service announcement for those living in the greater Richmond, Virginia metropolitan area about a terrific art show running from now through Sunday evening plus a free concert Saturday night.

Gallery 41, Richmond's longest running juried fine arts and crafts exhibit and sale, is being held at the First Unitarian Universalist Church until October 22. The show opened Wednesday and runs Friday from noon to 8, Saturday from noon to 9, and Sunday from noon to 5.

Gallery 41 will also present an evening of music and dance on Saturday from 6-9 with Richmond's own NRG Krysis. All events are free and open to the public. The church is located at 1000 Blanton Ave., near the Carillon in Byrd Park.

For additional information, call (804) 355-0777 or visit the website.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Real life v. politics: The Warner decision revisited

Campaigning is full-time around the clock seven days a week. I have worked on a number of campaigns and I know family and a personal life are put on the back burner. If you are a candidate it is worse. And if you are a Presidential candidate it is as bad as it gets given our insane system of nominating candidates requiring campaigning and fundraising years in advance of the nomination and election. It is extremely stressful on families. Period.

Mark Warner’s prospects as a potential Democratic nominee looked as promising as any of the other many names floating about. It came as a shock when he withdrew from the campaign and invited skepticism when he gave the reason as being he wanted a real life. Surely there must be a skeleton in the closet or a private poll showing his campaign as hopeless. It is as if taking a politician at his word is somehow unthinkable.

Ryan Lizza has just published a piece in The New Republic about Mark Warner. He has covered him for Presidential race and had a number of conversations with him. His thoughts on Warner:
Every governor or senator thinks about running for president. Most do so
because they are ambitious and see the presidency as the next rung on America's
political ladder. The big question they often ask is strategic. How can I make
it through the process and get elected? In the end, that's not the question
Warner asked. His advisers swear that the nuances of the primaries and the
details of how to topple Hillary Clinton never came up in his final
deliberations. Warner asked not whether he could be president, but whether he
should be president. The irony of Warner's answer is that the kind of person who
dwells on that question is the kind of person you want to be president.

Our approach to nuclear non-proliferation must change

The detonation of a nuclear bomb by North Korea could be the beginning of a new arms race around the world by medium and small states. The instability created by the potential of state-on-state nuclear warfare is bad enough but there is also the possibility of non-state actors gaining access to small and crude explosive nuclear devices to terrorize civilian populations of targeted nations.

The current nuclear non-proliferation treaty is inadequate. The United Nations has again proven itself ineffective. The United States has abandoned its world leadership responsibilities in Korea. China, the natural successor to that role, has its own reasons not to be too harsh with North Korea.

Off on the sidelines, Iran and other nations are watching this ineffective response and making their own calculations on how to proceed with their own programs. The international response to Iran’s declaration to proceed with their nuclear program is equally unencouraging.

Joschka Fischer was Germany’s foreign minister and vice chancellor from 1998 to 2005. He offers some thoughts on the current situation in today’s Guardian:
First, international pressure, led by the US, China, Russia, and Japan
was not enough to prevent North Korea from taking this fateful step. A terrible
dictatorship, a regime without a future and a dwarf in terms of power-politics
defied the international giants. There is now justifiable outrage, and a call
for sanctions is heard everywhere.

But what will be the effect of sanctions against a regime whose
goal is survival through self-isolation - a regime that will have no qualms in
ruthlessly sacrificing its people? Also, can China really permit strong
sanctions against its neighbour, a regime fighting for survival, one equipped
with nuclear arms and missiles, and a humanitarian disaster of the highest order
among its population? Just how credible and effective can sanctions be?

Second, the security council now looks like a paper tiger because
its authority was successfully challenged by a worn-out regime. This fact will
be noted everywhere, particularly in Tehran. If the boundaries between nuclear
haves and have-nots becomes more permeable, or even dissolves altogether, the
entire multilateral security system could be called into question. On October 9,
the gate leading down this path was thrown open.

Third, the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) regime, which was on the
brink of toppling even before North Korea's actions, is threatening to
disintegrate. A number of small and mid-sized powers will now ask themselves a
radically new question: if North Korea can be a nuclear power, why not us? If in
these times of militarily accomplished regime change real sovereignty can only
be guaranteed by nuclear arms, why not go down this route? A collapse of the
non-proliferation regime will increase not only the risk of regional nuclear
arms races, but also of a transfer of nuclear know-how and technology,
increasing the risk of nuclear confrontation.

Fourth, the nuclear crisis triggered by North Korea demonstrates
that the US - for the first time since the Cold War's end - is no longer the
main player on the international scene and that its options are both limited and
problematic. Following the hand-over from Clinton to Bush, the US gave up its
strategy of engaging the North Korean regime to moderate its behaviour and thus
unnecessarily reduced its own options. China has now become the main player in
the North Korean crisis, and in the region as a whole. This will have a serious
impact across the Pacific and cause America to focus its strategic attention
there. Europe might thus be called on to take up the slack in the eastern
Mediterranean and the Middle East, both sooner and on a much larger scale than
Europeans suspect.

So what is to be done? There is no way around a strategy of
engagement and containment with regard to North Korea or the crisis will
escalate. The US will have to enter talks - direct and bilateral if necessary.
Indeed, it looks like that is what will be needed. China, humiliated by Kim Jong
Il, will for the first time have to assume leadership in the region and resolve,
or at least contain, the crisis.

Looking to the future, the whole approach to nuclear
non-proliferation must change. It is no use lamenting the real danger of nuclear
proliferation, while in practice standing idle as the non-proliferation treaty
falls apart.

If the world is not one day to consist of a few big nuclear powers
and many mid-sized and small ones, then the big nuclear powers must now
undertake a serious disarmament and non-proliferation initiative. Part of this
initiative must be to provide, as a corollary to new disarmament requirements
and control mechanisms, the assurance of non-discriminatory access to nuclear
know-how, research, and technology.

This will require an international institutional solution to the
problem of enrichment, with participation in the enrichment process entailing
new obligations - above all, the willingness to assure transparency through
verification and intensive inspections. Moreover, only new strides towards
disarmament by the big nuclear powers, and a guarantee of access to technology
and know-how under international control, can stop the trend toward "nuclear

Now North Korea seems to have the Bomb. Iran is intensively working
toward the same end, while continuing to expand its hegemonic position in the
region. If to the "axis of evil," we add Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Syria,
Israel and the Palestinians, along with terrorism, the resulting picture is
anything but hopeful. Should the US be tempted now, in response to the failure
of its policy, to consider a military "option" against Iran, the nuclearisation
of the international system will not be arrested. Indeed, such a step will only
push the Middle East into an explosive mega-conflict with unpredictable and
uncontrollable consequences.