The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Lee Iacocca - Where Have All the Leaders Gone?

Excerpt
Where Have All the Leaders Gone?

By Lee Iacocca with Catherine Whitney

Had Enough?

Am I the only guy in this country who's fed up with what's happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We've got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we've got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can't even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, "Stay the course."

Stay the course? You've got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic. I'll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out!

You might think I'm getting senile, that I've gone off my rocker, and maybe I have. But someone has to speak up. I hardly recognize this country anymore. The President of the United States is given a free pass to ignore the Constitution, tap our phones, and lead us to war on a pack of lies. Congress responds to record deficits by passing a huge tax cut for the wealthy (thanks, but I don't need it). The most famous business leaders are not the innovators but the guys in handcuffs. While we're fiddling in Iraq, the Middle East is burning and nobody seems to know what to do. And the press is waving pom-poms instead of asking hard questions. That's not the promise of America my parents and yours traveled across the ocean for. I've had enough. How about you?

I'll go a step further. You can't call yourself a patriot if you're not outraged. This is a fight I'm ready and willing to have.

My friends tell me to calm down. They say, "Lee, you're eighty-two years old. Leave the rage to the young people." I'd love to—as soon as I can pry them away from their iPods for five seconds and get them to pay attention. I'm going to speak up because it's my patriotic duty. I think people will listen to me. They say I have a reputation as a straight shooter. So I'll tell you how I see it, and it's not pretty, but at least it's real. I'm hoping to strike a nerve in those young folks who say they don't vote because they don't trust politicians to represent their interests. Hey, America, wake up. These guys work for us.

Who Are These Guys, Anyway?

Why are we in this mess? How did we end up with this crowd in Washington? Well, we voted for them—or at least some of us did. But I'll tell you what we didn't do. We didn't agree to suspend the Constitution. We didn't agree to stop asking questions or demanding answers. Some of us are sick and tired of people who call free speech treason. Where I come from that's a dictatorship, not a democracy.

And don't tell me it's all the fault of right-wing Republicans or liberal Democrats. That's an intellectually lazy argument, and it's part of the reason we're in this stew. We're not just a nation of factions. We're a people. We share common principles and ideals. And we rise and fall together.

Where are the voices of leaders who can inspire us to action and make us stand taller? What happened to the strong and resolute party of Lincoln? What happened to the courageous, populist party of FDR and Truman? There was a time in this country when the voices of great leaders lifted us up and made us want to do better. Where have all the leaders gone?

The Test of a Leader

I've never been Commander in Chief, but I've been a CEO. I understand a few things about leadership at the top. I've figured out nine points—not ten (I don't want people accusing me of thinking I'm Moses). I call them the "Nine Cs of Leadership." They're not fancy or complicated. Just clear, obvious qualities that every true leader should have. We should look at how the current administration stacks up. Like it or not, this crew is going to be around until January 2009. Maybe we can learn something before we go to the polls in 2008. Then let's be sure we use the leadership test to screen the candidates who say they want to run the country. It's up to us to choose wisely.

So, here's my C list:

A leader has to show CURIOSITY. He has to listen to people outside of the "Yes, sir" crowd in his inner circle. He has to read voraciously, because the world is a big, complicated place. George W. Bush brags about never reading a newspaper. "I just scan the headlines," he says. Am I hearing this right? He's the President of the United States and he never reads a newspaper? Thomas Jefferson once said, "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter." Bush disagrees. As long as he gets his daily hour in the gym, with Fox News piped through the sound system, he's ready to go.

If a leader never steps outside his comfort zone to hear different ideas, he grows stale. If he doesn't put his beliefs to the test, how does he know he's right? The inability to listen is a form of arrogance. It means either you think you already know it all, or you just don't care. Before the 2006 election, George Bush made a big point of saying he didn't listen to the polls. Yeah, that's what they all say when the polls stink. But maybe he should have listened, because 70 percent of the people were saying he was on the wrong track. It took a "thumping" on election day to wake him up, but even then you got the feeling he wasn't listening so much as he was calculating how to do a better job of convincing everyone he was right.

A leader has to be CREATIVE, go out on a limb, be willing to try something different. You know, think outside the box. George Bush prides himself on never changing, even as the world around him is spinning out of control. God forbid someone should accuse him of flip-flopping. There's a disturbingly messianic fervor to his certainty. Senator Joe Biden recalled a conversation he had with Bush a few months after our troops marched into Baghdad. Joe was in the Oval Office outlining his concerns to the President—the explosive mix of Shiite and Sunni, the disbanded Iraqi army, the problems securing the oil fields. "The President was serene," Joe recalled. "He told me he was sure that we were on the right course and that all would be well. 'Mr. President,' I finally said, 'how can you be so sure when you don't yet know all the facts?'" Bush then reached over and put a steadying hand on Joe's shoulder. "My instincts," he said. "My instincts." Joe was flabbergasted. He told Bush, "Mr. President, your instincts aren't good enough." Joe Biden sure didn't think the matter was settled. And, as we all know now, it wasn't.

Leadership is all about managing change—whether you're leading a company or leading a country. Things change, and you get creative. You adapt. Maybe Bush was absent the day they covered that at Harvard Business School.

A leader has to COMMUNICATE. I'm not talking about running off at the mouth or spouting sound bites. I'm talking about facing reality and telling the truth. Nobody in the current administration seems to know how to talk straight anymore. Instead, they spend most of their time trying to convince us that things are not really as bad as they seem. I don't know if it's denial or dishonesty, but it can start to drive you crazy after a while. Communication has to start with telling the truth, even when it's painful. The war in Iraq has been, among other things, a grand failure of communication. Bush is like the boy who didn't cry wolf when the wolf was at the door. After years of being told that all is well, even as the casualties and chaos mount, we've stopped listening to him.

A leader has to be a person of CHARACTER. That means knowing the difference between right and wrong and having the guts to do the right thing. Abraham Lincoln once said, "If you want to test a man's character, give him power." George Bush has a lot of power. What does it say about his character? Bush has shown a willingness to take bold action on the world stage because he has the power, but he shows little regard for the grievous consequences. He has sent our troops (not to mention hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens) to their deaths—for what? To build our oil reserves? To avenge his daddy because Saddam Hussein once tried to have him killed? To show his daddy he's tougher? The motivations behind the war in Iraq are questionable, and the execution of the war has been a disaster. A man of character does not ask a single soldier to die for a failed policy.

A leader must have COURAGE. I'm talking about balls. (That even goes for female leaders.) Swagger isn't courage. Tough talk isn't courage. George Bush comes from a blue-blooded Connecticut family, but he likes to talk like a cowboy. You know, My gun is bigger than your gun. Courage in the twenty-first century doesn't mean posturing and bravado. Courage is a commitment to sit down at the negotiating table and talk.

If you're a politician, courage means taking a position even when you know it will cost you votes. Bush can't even make a public appearance unless the audience has been handpicked and sanitized. He did a series of so-called town hall meetings last year, in auditoriums packed with his most devoted fans. The questions were all softballs.

To be a leader you've got to have CONVICTION—a fire in your belly. You've got to have passion. You've got to really want to get something done. How do you measure fire in the belly? Bush has set the all-time record for number of vacation days taken by a U.S. President—four hundred and counting. He'd rather clear brush on his ranch than immerse himself in the business of governing. He even told an interviewer that the high point of his presidency so far was catching a seven-and-a-half-pound perch in his hand-stocked lake.

It's no better on Capitol Hill. Congress was in session only ninety-seven days in 2006. That's eleven days less than the record set in 1948, when President Harry Truman coined the term do-nothing Congress. Most people would expect to be fired if they worked so little and had nothing to show for it. But Congress managed to find the time to vote itself a raise. Now, that's not leadership.

A leader should have CHARISMA. I'm not talking about being flashy. Charisma is the quality that makes people want to follow you. It's the ability to inspire. People follow a leader because they trust him. That's my definition of charisma. Maybe George Bush is a great guy to hang out with at a barbecue or a ball game. But put him at a global summit where the future of our planet is at stake, and he doesn't look very presidential. Those frat-boy pranks and the kidding around he enjoys so much don't go over that well with world leaders. Just ask German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who received an unwelcome shoulder massage from our President at a G-8 Summit. When he came up behind her and started squeezing, I thought she was going to go right through the roof.

A leader has to be COMPETENT. That seems obvious, doesn't it? You've got to know what you're doing. More important than that, you've got to surround yourself with people who know what they're doing. Bush brags about being our first MBA President. Does that make him competent? Well, let's see. Thanks to our first MBA President, we've got the largest deficit in history, Social Security is on life support, and we've run up a half-a-trillion-dollar price tag (so far) in Iraq. And that's just for starters. A leader has to be a problem solver, and the biggest problems we face as a nation seem to be on the back burner.

You can't be a leader if you don't have COMMON SENSE. I call this Charlie Beacham's rule. When I was a young guy just starting out in the car business, one of my first jobs was as Ford's zone manager in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. My boss was a guy named Charlie Beacham, who was the East Coast regional manager. Charlie was a big Southerner, with a warm drawl, a huge smile, and a core of steel. Charlie used to tell me, "Remember, Lee, the only thing you've got going for you as a human being is your ability to reason and your common sense. If you don't know a dip of horseshit from a dip of vanilla ice cream, you'll never make it." George Bush doesn't have common sense. He just has a lot of sound bites. You know—Mr.they'll-welcome-us-as-liberators-no-child-left-behind-heck-of-a-job-Brownie-mission-accomplished Bush.

Former President Bill Clinton once said, "I grew up in an alcoholic home. I spent half my childhood trying to get into the reality-based world—and I like it here."

I think our current President should visit the real world once in a while.

The Biggest C is Crisis

Leaders are made, not born. Leadership is forged in times of crisis. It's easy to sit there with your feet up on the desk and talk theory. Or send someone else's kids off to war when you've never seen a battlefield yourself. It's another thing to lead when your world comes tumbling down.

On September 11, 2001, we needed a strong leader more than any other time in our history. We needed a steady hand to guide us out of the ashes. Where was George Bush? He was reading a story about a pet goat to kids in Florida when he heard about the attacks. He kept sitting there for twenty minutes with a baffled look on his face. It's all on tape. You can see it for yourself. Then, instead of taking the quickest route back to Washington and immediately going on the air to reassure the panicked people of this country, he decided it wasn't safe to return to the White House. He basically went into hiding for the day—and he told Vice President Dick Cheney to stay put in his bunker. We were all frozen in front of our TVs, scared out of our wits, waiting for our leaders to tell us that we were going to be okay, and there was nobody home. It took Bush a couple of days to get his bearings and devise the right photo op at Ground Zero.

That was George Bush's moment of truth, and he was paralyzed. And what did he do when he'd regained his composure? He led us down the road to Iraq—a road his own father had considered disastrous when he was President. But Bush didn't listen to Daddy. He listened to a higher father. He prides himself on being faith based, not reality based. If that doesn't scare the crap out of you, I don't know what will.

A Hell of a Mess

So here's where we stand. We're immersed in a bloody war with no plan for winning and no plan for leaving. We're running the biggest deficit in the history of the country. We're losing the manufacturing edge to Asia, while our once-great companies are getting slaughtered by health care costs. Gas prices are skyrocketing, and nobody in power has a coherent energy policy. Our schools are in trouble. Our borders are like sieves. The middle class is being squeezed every which way. These are times that cry out for leadership.

But when you look around, you've got to ask: "Where have all the leaders gone?" Where are the curious, creative communicators? Where are the people of character, courage, conviction, competence, and common sense? I may be a sucker for alliteration, but I think you get the point.

Name me a leader who has a better idea for homeland security than making us take off our shoes in airports and throw away our shampoo? We've spent billions of dollars building a huge new bureaucracy, and all we know how to do is react to things that have already happened.

Name me one leader who emerged from the crisis of Hurricane Katrina. Congress has yet to spend a single day evaluating the response to the hurricane, or demanding accountability for the decisions that were made in the crucial hours after the storm. Everyone's hunkering down, fingers crossed, hoping it doesn't happen again. Now, that's just crazy. Storms happen. Deal with it. Make a plan. Figure out what you're going to do the next time.

Name me an industry leader who is thinking creatively about how we can restore our competitive edge in manufacturing. Who would have believed that there could ever be a time when "the Big Three" referred to Japanese car companies? How did this happen—and more important, what are we going to do about it?

Name me a government leader who can articulate a plan for paying down the debt, or solving the energy crisis, or managing the health care problem. The silence is deafening. But these are the crises that are eating away at our country and milking the middle class dry.

I have news for the gang in Congress. We didn't elect you to sit on your asses and do nothing and remain silent while our democracy is being hijacked and our greatness is being replaced with mediocrity. What is everybody so afraid of? That some bobblehead on Fox News will call them a name? Give me a break. Why don't you guys show some spine for a change?

Had Enough?

Hey, I'm not trying to be the voice of gloom and doom here. I'm trying to light a fire. I'm speaking out because I have hope. I believe in America. In my lifetime I've had the privilege of living through some of America's greatest moments. I've also experienced some of our worst crises—the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War, the 1970s oil crisis, and the struggles of recent years culminating with 9/11. If I've learned one thing, it's this: You don't get anywhere by standing on the sidelines waiting for somebody else to take action. Whether it's building a better car or building a better future for our children, we all have a role to play. That's the challenge I'm raising in this book. It's a call to action for people who, like me, believe in America. It's not too late, but it's getting pretty close. So let's shake off the horseshit and go to work. Let's tell 'em all we've had enough.

http://www.bordersstores.com/features/feature.jsp?file=wherehavealltheleadersgone

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

U.S. Panel Is Said to Alter Finding on Voter fraud

U.S. Panel Is Said to Alter Finding on Voter fraud
By IAN URBINA

WASHINGTON, April 10 — A federal panel responsible for conducting election research played down the findings of experts who concluded last year that there was little voter fraud around the nation, according to a review of the original report obtained by The New York Times.

Instead, the panel, the Election Assistance Commission, issued a report that said the pervasiveness of fraud was open to debate.

The revised version echoes complaints made by Republican politicians, who have long suggested that voter fraud is widespread and justifies the voter identification laws that have been passed in at least two dozen states.

Democrats say the threat is overstated and have opposed voter identification laws, which they say disenfranchise the poor, members of minority groups and the elderly, who are less likely to have photo IDs and are more likely to be Democrats.

Though the original report said that among experts “there is widespread but not unanimous agreement that there is little polling place fraud,” the final version of the report released to the public concluded in its executive summary that “there is a great deal of debate on the pervasiveness of fraud.”

The topic of voter fraud, usually defined as people misrepresenting themselves at the polls or improperly attempting to register voters, remains a lively division between the two parties. It has played a significant role in the current Congressional investigation into the Bush administration’s firing of eight United States attorneys, several of whom, documents now indicate, were dismissed for being insufficiently aggressive in pursuing voter fraud cases.

And two weeks ago, the panel faced criticism for refusing to release another report it commissioned concerning voter identification laws. That report, which was released after intense pressure from Congress, found that voter identification laws designed to fight fraud can reduce turnout, particularly among members of minorities. In releasing that report, which was conducted by a different set of scholars, the commission declined to endorse its findings, citing methodological concerns.

A number of election law experts, based on their own research, have concluded that the accusations regarding widespread fraud are unjustified. And in this case, one of the two experts hired to do the report was Job Serebrov, a Republican elections attorney from Arkansas, who defended his research in an e-mail message obtained by The Times that was sent last October to Margaret Sims, a commission staff member.

“Tova and I worked hard to produce a correct, accurate and truthful report,” Mr. Serebrov wrote, referring to Tova Wang, a voting expert with liberal leanings from the Century Foundation and co-author of the report. “I could care less that the results are not what the more conservative members of my party wanted.”

He added: “Neither one of us was willing to conform results for political expediency.”

For contractual reasons, neither Ms. Wang nor Mr. Serebrov were at liberty to comment on their original report and the discrepancies with the final, edited version.

The original report on fraud cites “evidence of some continued outright intimidation and suppression” of voters by local officials, especially in some Native American communities, while the final report says only that voter “intimidation is also a topic of some debate because there is little agreement concerning what constitutes actionable voter intimidation.”

The original report said most experts believe that “false registration forms have not resulted in polling place fraud,” but the final report says “registration drives by nongovernmental groups are a source of fraud.”

Although Democrats accused the board of caving to political pressure, Donetta L. Davidson, the chairwoman of the commission, said that when the original report was submitted, the board’s legal and research staff decided there was not enough supporting data behind some of the claims. So, she said, the staff members revised the report and presented a final version in December for a vote by the commissioners.

“We were a small agency taking over a huge job,” said Ms. Davidson, who was appointed to the agency by President Bush in 2005. “I think we may have tried to do more research than we were equipped to handle.” She added that the commission had “always stuck to being bipartisan.”

The commission, which was created by Congress in 2002 to conduct nonpartisan research on elections, consists of two Republicans and two Democrats. At the time of the report, one of the two Democrats had left to take another job and had not yet been replaced, but the final report was unanimously approved by the other commissioners.

Gracia Hillman, the Democratic commissioner who voted in favor of releasing the final report, said she did not believe that the editing of the report was politically motivated or overly extensive.

“As a federal agency, our responsibility is to ensure that the research we produce is fully verified,” Ms. Hillman said. “Some of the points made in the draft report made by the consultants went beyond what we felt comfortable with.”

The Republican Party’s interest in rooting out voter fraud has been encouraged by the White House. In a speech last April, Karl Rove, Mr. Bush’s senior political adviser, told a group of Republican lawyers that election integrity issues were an “enormous and growing” problem.

“We’re, in some parts of the country, I’m afraid to say, beginning to look like we have elections like those run in countries where the guys in charge are colonels in mirrored sunglasses,” Mr. Rove said. “I mean, it’s a real problem.”

Several Democrats said they believed that politics were behind the commission’s decision to rewrite the report.

“This was the commission’s own study and it agreed in advance to how it would be done, but the most important part of it got dropped from the final version,” said Representative José E. Serrano, Democrat of New York and chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees the commission. “I don’t see how you can conclude that politics were not involved.”

Representative Maurice D. Hinchey, another New York Democrat, who requested the draft report from Ms. Davidson during a subcommittee hearing last month, agreed.

“By attempting to sweep this draft report under the rug, the E.A.C. is throwing out important work, wasting taxpayer dollars and creating a cloud of suspicion as to why it is acting this way,” he said.

Some scholars and voting advocates said that the original report on fraud, for which the commission paid the authors more than $100,000, was less rigorous than it should have been. But they said they did not believe that was the reason for the changes.

“Had the researchers been able to go even further than they did, they would have come to same conclusions but they would have had more analysis backing them up,” said Lorraine C. Minnite, a political science professor at Barnard College who is writing a book on voter fraud. “Instead, the commission rewrote their report and changed the thrust of its conclusions.”

Ray Martinez III, the Democrat who left the commission, quit last August for personal reasons. He said in an interview that he was not present for any discussion or editing of the voter fraud report.

Mr. Martinez added, however, that he had argued strenuously that all reports, in draft or final editions, should be made public. But he said he lost that argument with other commissioners.

“Methodology concerns aside, we commissioned the reports with taxpayer funds, and I argued that they should be released,” he said, referring to the delay in the release of the voter ID report. “My view was that the public and the academics could determine whether it is rigorous and if it wasn’t then the egg was on our face for having commissioned it in the first place.”

In recent months, the commission has been criticized for failing to provide proper oversight of the technology laboratories that test electronic voting machines and software. The commission is also responsible for conducting research and advising policy makers on the implementation of the Help America Vote Act, the federal overhaul of election procedure prompted by the 2000 Florida debacle.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/11/washington/11voters.html?ei=5089&en=fdeb2bb90bd0b00f&ex=1333944000&adxnnl=0&partner=rssyahoo&emc=rss&adxnnlx=1176258082-USN/VF92nGAPrt1datJxoQ&pagewanted=print

AP Poll: Congress approval up

AP Poll: Congress approval up

By David Espo, AP Special Correspondent | April 9, 2007

WASHINGTON --Public approval for Congress is at its highest level in a year as Democrats mark 100 days in power and step up their confrontation with President Bush over his handling of the Iraq War, the issue that overshadows all others.

Yet for all their eagerness to challenge Bush, congressional Democrats so far have failed to attract significant support among independents, a group that helped propel them to power in last fall's elections and now appears more strongly opposed to the war than the general public.

The findings from an AP-Ipsos nationwide poll provide a snapshot of public sentiment in the days after the House and Senate triggered a series of veto threats from the president by passing separate bills that provide funds for the war, yet also call for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops.

Overall approval for Congress is 40 percent. The survey shows Bush's approval ratings remain in the mid-30 percent range, that a striking 39 percent strongly disapproves his handling of foreign policy and the war on terror, and that the public has scant hopes that the president and Congress can work together to solve the country's problems.

"The Democrats are back," Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the first woman speaker in history, had exulted on Jan. 3 as her party claimed control for the first time in more than a decade.

While the Iraq war has dominated the days since then, Democrats also quickly showcased their domestic priorities and used their power to convene hearings -- and issue subpoenas -- to embarrass the administration.

Valerie Plame, the former CIA operative, was the star witness at a mid-March House hearing. Before a bank of television cameras, she testified that senior officials at the White House and State Department had "carelessly and recklessly" blown her cover to discredit her diplomat-husband in a controversy related to the Iraq War.

Already, though, the limits on the new majority's power are evident.

The minimum wage bill is becalmed as Republicans demand tax cuts as the price for passage.

And Bush has threatened to veto a measure to expand the criteria for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. The House passed the bill earlier in the year, and Senate debate is scheduled for this week.

Pelosi pointed to a fast start at a news conference shortly before lawmakers left the Capitol for a two-week break.

"In the first 100 hours, as you know, we passed legislation to make our economy fairer, to make our country safer, to make college more accessible, health care more affordable, promoted energy independence, and to do so in a fiscally sound way, upholding the highest ethical standard with great openness and transparency in government."

Republicans differed, pointedly so.

"They haven't enacted anything and they haven't kept one of their promises in terms of how they were going to treat the minority," said House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio, referring to a Democratic practice of refusing to allow votes on GOP-backed amendments.

"They also put a lot of their members in a very uncomfortable position last week with the spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan with $22 billion in extra spending."

While Pelosi has commanded much of the spotlight for the Democrats, the party's Senate leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, has shown an increasing willingness to challenge Bush over Iraq.

"A strategy that encourages this enemy to wait us out is dangerous -- dangerous for our troops, dangerous for our security," Bush said in one of several recent veto threats.

Reid responded by announcing support for legislation to give the president one year to get troops out, ending funding for combat operations after March 31, 2008.

That is a tougher stand than either the House or Senate took last month, and the next step will be for lawmakers to reach a compromise when they return from a spring break.

A veto is widely expected, and the president is likely to demand Congress then send him a replacement measure that meets his conditions. That would pose a challenge to Pelosi and Reid as they try to satisfy the anti-war members of their rank and file while fending off charges they are leaving the troops without sufficient funds.

Against that backdrop, the AP poll indicates the public wants Congress to push for an end to a war that has claimed the lives of more than 3,200 U.S. troops.

Forty percent of those surveyed said they approve the job Congress is doing, up from 25 percent approval registered for the Republican majority in the weeks leading to last fall's elections. Disapproval of Congress totals 57 percent.

The public opinion split is identical on the issue of Democratic handling of Iraq -- 40 percent approve, 57 percent disapprove.

Support is lower among self-described political independents, who deserted Republicans in last fall's elections to give 57 percent of their votes to Democrats. Now, only 32 percent of them register approval of the job Congress is doing; 36 percent favor the way Democrats are handling Iraq.

Even anti-war Democrats seem slow in warming to the new majority in Congress. While 59 percent of that group approve of the way their party is handling Iraq, 39 percent disapprove.

Among Republicans, 86 percent disapprove.

The poll relied on interviews with 1000 adults, including 819 registered voters, from April 2-4. The margin of error was 3 percentage points.

http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2007/04/09/ap_poll_congress_approval_up?mode=PF

Poll finds Americans want attorney general to resign

Poll finds Americans want attorney general to resign

Majority also wants White House aides to testify under oath about the firing of prosecutors, an L.A. Times/Bloomberg Poll finds.
By Doyle McManus
Times Staff Writer

3:40 PM PDT, April 10, 2007

WASHINGTON — Most Americans believe Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales should resign because of the controversy over his office's firing of federal prosecutors and a big majority want White House aides to testify under oath about the issue, the Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg Poll has found.

The survey, conducted Thursday through Sunday, found that 53% said Gonzales should step down because he claimed he had no role in the dismissals of eight U.S. attorneys last year -- an account later contradicted by Justice Department documents and congressional testimony by his top assistant.

Senate and House Democratic leaders have asked White House aides to testify under oath about the firings, in part to answer questions about the roles of Gonzales and Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political strategist.

Bush has rejected those requests, but the poll found that 74% of the public believes his aides, including Rove, should comply.

Even among Republicans, 49% said the aides should testify; 43% said they should not.

"I don't know whether Gonzales needs to resign. I think he's going to have to seriously think about it," said David Brennan, 43, a poll respondent who is a telephone technician in Bend, Ore., and described himself as a conservative Republican. "But I do think, no matter what, [the aides] should have to speak about it under oath. They should tell the truth, Republican or Democrat."

Respondents were divided along party lines as to whether Gonzales should resign. Among Democrats, 68% said he should do so; among Republicans, 33% said he should depart.

Independents tip the balance -- 57% said they supported calls for his resignation while 22% said he should stay.

On another issue, the poll found that Americans are also split along partisan lines over pending congressional legislation that would provide new funding for the war in Iraq, but require a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from the country.

Asked whether Bush should accept or veto a bill that included a timetable, 48% said he should sign such a measure while 43% said he should reject it. A significant majority of Democrats -- 74% -- backed signing the bill; an even bigger majority of Republicans, 80%, supported a veto.

Bush has pledged to veto a war funding bill if Congress sends it to him with withdrawal language.

If the president carries out his promise, Democratic voters do not want the party's lawmakers to reach an accord with him.

Some Democratic congressional leaders have conceded that that they almost assuredly cannot get the two-thirds majorities in the House or Senate needed to override a veto. So they would face a choice between approving the war funding bill without a timetable or blocking the money -- and come under withering criticism from Bush for failing to support U.S. troops on the battlefield.

Given that choice, 66% of Democrats want Congress to hold firm and withhold the funding unless Bush accepts some conditions for a troop withdrawal.

Among Republicans, 73% say they want Congress to fund the war without conditions.

One implication of those numbers is that a Democrat who acknowledges that ultimately the party will accede to Bush is likely to face attacks from the party's antiwar wing -- as happened to Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) two weeks ago when he predicted that Congress would eventually pass the funding without stringent conditions.

The Times/Bloomberg poll interviewed 1,373 respondents by telephone nationwide under the supervision of poll director Susan Pinkus. The survey's margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points.

The poll found that Americans have grown more pessimistic since the beginning of the year.

About two-thirds, 66%, said the country is "seriously off on the wrong track," up from 61% in a Times/Bloomberg Poll in January.

Bush received a positive job approval rating from 36% of those interviewed, down from 39% in January (and well below a 45% approval rating he registered in a similar survey in September).

The Democratic-led Congress has seen its luster dim.

In a poll before November's election, only 30% of respondents said they approved of the job the Republican-led Congress was doing. After Democrats had assumed control of both the House and Senate, a poll in March found 41% approving of the job they were doing. In the new poll, 34% of respondents said they approved of the job Congress was doing.

"The honeymoon is definitely over," said poll director Pinkus.

Sidney Spiegel, 87, a retired hydrogeologist in Littleton, Colo., who responded to the poll, said of the lawmakers: "They're holding investigations, but they aren't taking care of things they should have fixed years ago, like Social Security."

Asked whether the Democratic-led Congress has launched its wave of investigations into conduct by the Bush administration out of genuine concern for government ethics or to gain political advantage, 63% of respondents said the aim was political.

One piece of encouraging news for Bush: a majority of respondents in both parties said they support changes to immigration policy that combine tougher enforcement of existing laws with a program to provide temporary "guest worker" visas for undocumented workers.

A strong majority of respondents, 77%, said employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants should be punished. That included 87% of Republicans and 72% of Democrats.

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-ex-poll10apr10,0,6701169,print.story?coll=la-home-nation

Are the super-rich sure this is what they want?

Are the super-rich sure this is what they want?

by thereisnospoon (dailykos)

Tue Apr 10, 2007 at 03:53:03 PM CDT

If the Bush Administration policy ethic were boiled down to just two essential common denominators, they would have to be the following:

1. The pursuit of unchecked executive power; and

2. An obsessive compulsion to funnel money to the ultra-rich

We've seen the income inequality graphs. We've seen the outrageous tax giveaways to the ultra-rich. We've seen Darth Cheney's unprecedented power grabs for the executive branch in everything from Bush's signing statements to his disgusting and probably permanent perversion of the Justice Department.

At first glance, the objective of this dual-pronged attack on decency and moral values may seem self-evident. After all, in the minds of the neoconservatives and their allies in the top .001% of American income holdiers, the calculus is simple enough:

-- Money = political victory

-- More money for the rich = more political victory for the rich

-- More executive power = more ability to enforce, secretly and openly, policies favoring the rich

-- More executive power = greater ability to exploit the wealth/cheap labor of foreign nations, using the poor as cannon fodder.

And certainly, that formula has worked well for the economic elites at least since Reagan, if not long before that.

But if there is one single identifiable third pillar of the Bush Administration policy ethic, it would have to be shortsightedness. Neoconservatives and Bushites have a tendency not to recognize the enormity of disasters and blowback situations until it is far too late for them to free themselves from the ensuing debacle. They're like a sabertooth cat leaping after a rodent in a tar pit: so enthralled with engorging themselves on their latest small-time victim that they fail to realize the mess they're getting themselves into. We've seen this with Iraq; with Afghanistan; with Katrina; with the DoJ scandal; with Rovian politics of destruction; with global warming; and with the disaffection of the very allies we need to extricate our Middle East position.

They simply don't realize the monsters and nightmares of their own making until it is too late to save their reputations and often their own hides.

And I wonder strongly if they aren't making the same mistake by attempting to gain unbridled executive power in order to further engorge their already fat pockets. After all, modern dictatorships--especially those in countries with widening income disparities and populist leanings--rarely turn out well for the rich. This is not only true throughout the world, but also here in America.

America has a strong populist tradition dating from the gilded age of the late 1800's, if not before. Whenever income disparity has grown to the degrees that it has in 2007, America has responded with aggressive populist presidents who often wield an uncomfortable degree of executive power to reign in the wealthy and redistribute income.

It happened with Bull Moose Teddy Roosevelt in the era of the robber barons. It happened with his nephew Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who stacked the courts and became essentially President For Life in the wake of Hoover's Great Depression. There's an argument to be made that it even happened with Abraham Lincoln, who used an uncomfortable degree of executive power to end slavery. Unchecked executive power, while a hallmark of Nixonite conservative wetdreams, has rarely worked well for the aristocratic elite in America.

Nor has it worked terribly well throughout the world in the latter years. Populist dictatorships are rarely friendly to maintaining wealth among elites. One has only to look at Chavez in Venezuela; Kirchner in Argentina; Morales in Bolivia; even back to Vargas in Brazil or the wealth confiscations of wealth in the wake of Islamic Iranian revolution against the shah.

If anything, unchecked executive power in the modern era usually leads to confiscations of the wealth of elites. It has also done so throughout the bulk of American history.

So, if I were in the upper .001% of income in the United States, I would be deeply concerned about the Bush Administration's policies set up to help my cause so generously. In fact, if I were a wealthy elite, the very LAST thing I would want is to see institutionally mandated monarchical executive power in tandem with another million or five in my pocket. Because I would know that severe blowback was not likely to be far behind.

But then again, I never did credit Bush or his allies with a great degree of foresight.

Cross-posted at MLW and at There Is No Blog

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/4/10/161151/655

Paul Krugman - Sweet Little Lies

Sweet Little Lies

By PAUL KRUGMAN

Four years into a war fought to eliminate a nonexistent threat, we all have renewed appreciation for the power of the Big Lie: people tend to believe false official claims about big issues, because they can’t picture their leaders being dishonest about such things.

But there’s another political lesson I don’t think has sunk in: the power of the Little Lie — the small accusation invented out of thin air, followed by another, and another, and another. Little Lies aren’t meant to have staying power. Instead, they create a sort of background hum, a sense that the person facing all these accusations must have done something wrong.

For a long time, basically from 9/11 until the last remnants of President Bush’s credibility drowned in New Orleans, the Bush administration was able to go big on its deceptions. Most people found it inconceivable that an American president would, for example, assert without evidence that Saddam and Al Qaeda were allies. Mr. Bush won the 2004 election because a quorum of voters still couldn’t believe he would grossly mislead them on matters of national security.

Before 9/11, however, the right-wing noise machine mainly relied on little lies. And now it has returned to its roots.

The Clinton years were a parade of fake scandals: Whitewater, Troopergate, Travelgate, Filegate, Christmas-card-gate. At the end, there were false claims that Clinton staff members trashed the White House on their way out.

Each pseudoscandal got headlines, air time and finger-wagging from the talking heads. The eventual discovery in each case that there was no there there, if reported at all, received far less attention. The effect was to make an administration that was, in fact, pretty honest and well run — especially compared with its successor — seem mired in scandal.

Even in the post-9/11 environment, little lies never went away. In particular, promoting little lies seems to have been one of the main things U.S. attorneys, as loyal Bushies, were expected to do. For example, David Iglesias, the U.S. Attorney in New Mexico, appears to have been fired because he wouldn’t bring unwarranted charges of voter fraud.

There’s a lot of talk now about a case in Wisconsin, where the Bush-appointed U.S. attorney prosecuted the state’s purchasing supervisor over charges that a court recently dismissed after just 26 minutes of oral testimony, with one judge calling the evidence “beyond thin.” But by then the accusations had done their job: the unjustly accused official had served almost four months in prison, and the case figured prominently in attack ads alleging corruption in the Democratic governor’s administration.

This is the context in which you need to see the wild swings Republicans have been taking at Nancy Pelosi.

First, there were claims that the speaker of the House had demanded a lavish plane for her trips back to California. One Republican leader denounced her “arrogance of extravagance” — then, when it became clear that the whole story was bogus, admitted that he had never had any evidence.

Now there’s Ms. Pelosi’s fact-finding trip to Syria, which Dick Cheney denounced as “bad behavior” — unlike the visit to Syria by three Republican congressmen a few days earlier, or Newt Gingrich’s trip to China when he was speaker.

Ms. Pelosi has responded coolly, dismissing the administration’s reaction as a “tantrum.” But it’s more than that: the hysterical reaction to her trip is part of a political strategy, aided and abetted by news organizations that give little lies their time in the sun.

Fox News, which is a partisan operation in all but name, plays a crucial role in the Little Lie strategy — which is why there is growing pressure on Democratic politicians not to do anything, like participating in Fox-hosted debates, that helps Fox impersonate a legitimate news organization.

But Fox has had plenty of help. Even Time’s Joe Klein, a media insider if anyone is, wrote of the Pelosi trip that “the media coverage of this on CNN and elsewhere has been abysmal.” For example, CNN ran a segment about Ms. Pelosi’s trip titled “Talking to Terrorists.”

The G.O.P.’s reversion to the Little Lie technique is a symptom of political weakness, of a party reduced to trivial smears because it has nothing else to offer. But the technique will remain effective — and the U.S. political scene will remain ugly — as long as many people in the news media keep playing along.

An Orwellian PR Stunt

An Orwellian PR Stunt
by Paul Campos

Last week, Sen. John McCain staged a truly Orwellian publicity stunt in a Baghdad market. In a desperate attempt to give some sliver of credence to claims that the dreaded “liberal media” are failing to report on all the wonderful things happening in Iraq, McCain took a brief walk outside the American-maintained fortress that is Baghdad’s green zone.Afterward, McCain declared his walk through the Shurja market was a sign that security had improved significantly in the Iraqi capital, and the administration’s current troop escalation is working. What he didn’t mention was that, during his short stroll, he was accompanied by dozens of heavily armed U.S. troops and several armored vehicles, while a couple of attack helicopters hovered overhead.

McCain’s photo op (which included the spectacle of the elderly senator wearing a flak jacket) was ludicrous on so many levels that even the normally docile national press, which has always treated McCain with kid gloves, pointed out he was making a fool of himself. Chastened, McCain issued a half-hearted apology a few days later, saying he “mis- spoke” when he pointed to his little walk under the protection of several platoons from the world’s most powerful military as evidence of Baghdad’s excellent shopping opportunities.

The most interesting question raised by McCain’s pathetic stunt is why this genuine war hero - who after all knows far better than most politicians the difference between real courage and the made-for-TV kind - thought he could get away with it.

The answer can be found by taking a random stroll through the archives of the very media McCain was trying to manipulate. From the first days of the Iraq war, it has been an article of dogmatic faith among the movement conservatives McCain is trying to woo that the liberal media have given Americans a far too bleak picture of what’s happening in Iraq.

Here are just a few examples out of literally hundreds: In September of 2003, former Clinton adviser-turned-right-wing media pundit Dick Morris declared that the “incredibly biased” liberal media were claiming “that Iraq is a ‘quagmire’ and that there ‘aren’t any weapons of mass destruction,’ and that ‘Bush lied’ - and all the while, thanks to Fox News are seeing with their own eyes how much this is crazy spin.”

A year later syndicated columnist and Bush administration stenographer Mark Steyn announced that the “liberal media” were doing their best to hide the fact that “the glass in Iraq is about two-thirds full. The bulk of the violence is confined to one province and parts of Baghdad . . . There is no ‘civil war.’ “

And last April, President Bush himself took the media to task: “The kind of progress that we and the Iraqi people are making in places like Tal Afar is not easy to capture in a short clip on the evening news,” he said. “Footage of children playing, or shops opening, and people resuming their normal lives will never be as dramatic as the footage of an IED explosion, or the destruction of a mosque, or soldiers and civilians being killed or injured.” (Two weeks ago, almost exactly a year to the day after Bush uttered these words, Tal Afar was the site of a particularly horrible massacre, in which 70 men and boys were lynched. Some of the murderers were members of the town’s police force.)

Over the past four years it’s become clear that, when it comes to Iraq, perhaps a quarter of Americans are equipped with skulls that can successfully deflect almost all unpleasant facts. These people will account for the majority of the votes cast in next year’s Republican primaries - hence McCain’s extraordinarily well-armed stroll.

Here’s another unpleasant fact: The day after McCain’s photo op, 21 people from that same market were kidnapped, taken north of the city, and murdered.

Paul Campos is a professor of law at the University of Colorado. He can be reached at paul.campos@colorado.edu.

© 2007 The Rocky Mountain News

http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2007/04/10/438/

Iraq: Why the media failed

Iraq: Why the media failed

Afraid to challenge America's leaders or conventional wisdom about the Middle East, a toothless press collapsed.

By Gary Kamiya

Apr. 10, 2007 | It's no secret that the period of time between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq represents one of the greatest collapses in the history of the American media. Every branch of the media failed, from daily newspapers, magazines and Web sites to television networks, cable channels and radio. I'm not going to go into chapter and verse about the media's specific failures, its credulousness about aluminum tubes and mushroom clouds and failure to make clear that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11 -- they're too well known to repeat. In any case, the real failing was not in any one area; it was across the board. Bush administration lies and distortions went unchallenged, or were actively promoted. Fundamental and problematic assumptions about terrorism and the "war on terror" were rarely debated or even discussed. Vital historical context was almost never provided. And it wasn't just a failure of analysis. With some honorable exceptions, good old-fashioned reporting was also absent.

But perhaps the press's most notable failure was its inability to determine just why this disastrous war was ever launched. Kristina Borjesson, author of "Feet to the Fire," a collection of interviews with 21 journalists about why the press collapsed, summed this up succinctly. "The thing that I found really profound was that there really was no consensus among this nation's top messengers about why we went to war," Borjesson told AlterNet. "[War is the] most extreme activity a nation can engage in, and if they weren't clear about it, that means the public wasn't necessarily clear about the real reasons. And I still don't think the American people are clear about it."

Of course, the media was not alone in its collapse. Congress rolled over and gave Bush authorization to go to war. And the majority of the American people, traumatized by 9/11, followed their delusional president down the primrose path. Had the media done its job, Bush's war of choice might still have taken place. But we'll never know.

Why did the media fail so disastrously in its response to the biggest issue of a generation? To answer this, we need to look at three broad, interrelated areas, which I have called psychological, institutional and ideological. The media had serious preexisting weaknesses on all three fronts, and when a devastating terrorist attack and a radical, reckless and duplicitous administration came together, the result was a perfect storm.

The psychological category is the most amorphous of the three and the most inexactly named -- it could just as easily be termed sociological. By it, I mean the subtle, internalized, often unconscious way that the media conforms and defers to certain sacrosanct values and ideals. Journalists like to think of themselves as autonomous agents who pursue truth without fear or favor. In fact, the media, especially the mass media, adheres to a whole set of sometimes explicit, sometimes implicit codes that govern what it feels it can say. Network television provides the clearest example. From decency codes to subject matter, the networks have always been surrounded by a vast, mostly invisible web of constraints.

Seen in this light, the mass media is a quasi-official institution, an info-nanny, that is held responsible for maintaining a kind of national consensus. Just as our legal system is largely based on what a "reasonable" person would think, so our mass media is charged with presenting not just an accurate view of the world but also an "appropriate" one.

What "appropriate" means in absolute terms is impossible to define. In practice, however, its meaning is quite clear. It's reflected in a cautious, centrist media that defers to accepted national dogmas and allows itself to shade cautiously into advocacy on issues only when it thinks it has the popular imprimatur to do so. The "culture wars" of recent decades are largely a backlash by enraged conservatives who correctly perceive that the "liberal" media has conferred its quasi-official seal of approval on issues like gay rights and women's right to abortion. In fact, the mainstream media only dares to deviate from the imagined national center, from "appropriate" discourse, within a highly circumscribed area.

Parents may be justified in basing their decisions on what is "appropriate." But for media organizations to do it is extremely dangerous -- and even more so in times of war or national trauma. After 9/11, the area of allowed deviation shrank even more. What was "appropriate" became deference to the nation's leaders. Patriotism and national unity trumped truth.

The outburst of media patriotism after the attacks reveals how fragile the barrier is between journalism and propaganda. Fox News, whose newscasters sported American flag pins and where the "news" consisted of cheerleading for Bush administration policies, was, of course, the most egregious case. One month after the United States began bombing Kabul, Fox anchor Brit Hume actually said, "Over at ABC News, where the wearing of American flag lapel pins is banned, Peter Jennings and his team have devoted far more time to the coverage of civilian casualties in Afghanistan than either of their broadcast network competitors." Reading this statement five years later is a salutary reminder of how pervasive such jingoist, near-Stalinist groupthink was in those days -- and still is on Fox.

Fox was the worst, but the rest of the mainstream media was clearly influenced by the perceived need to be "Americans first and journalists second." This was manifested less in obviously biased or flawed stories than in subtler ways: the simple failure to investigate Bush administration claims, go outside the magic circle of approved wise men, or in general aggressively question the whole surreal adventure. This failure was even more glaring because the run-up to war took place in slow motion. For nine months or more, everyone knew Bush was determined to attack Iraq, and no one really knew why. Yet the mainstream media was unable to break out of its stupor. At a critical moment, that stupor appeared almost literal.

In an infamous Bush press conference on March 6, 2003, just days before the Iraq war began, the assembled media bigwigs were so lethargic and apparently resigned to the inevitability of war that they seemed to be drugged. ABC News White House correspondent Terry Moran said that the press corps left "looking like zombies."

I'm not saying that there's no place for patriotism, or fellow feeling, in journalism. 9/11 was a special case. Thousands of Americans had just been killed, and a heightened emotional awareness of our shared national identity was both inevitable and unexceptionable. Who, for example, would quarrel with the "Portraits of Grief" series the New York Times ran, honoring each of the victims of 9/11? Running this series had clear political ramifications. The Times, for instance, has never run a series about the 3,000 or more victims of automobile accidents killed every month in the United States. But it was a legitimate news decision.

But when it comes to forward-looking analysis and reporting -- as opposed to elegiac coverage -- patriotism and groupthink are journalistic poison. Hume's implicit argument that it was "un-American" to report extensively on civilian casualties was an extreme example. But in newsrooms across the land, thousands of smaller, unnoticed cases of self-censorship or selective reporting were taking place. 9/11 in particular was a sacred taboo that even the most cold-blooded, dispassionate journalists feared to disturb. They'd seen what happened to Susan Sontag, who was crucified for daring to say that the 9/11 attackers were not cowards, that President Bush's tough-talking response was "robotic," and that America urgently needed to rethink its Middle East policies. (The New Republic ran an article that began, "What do Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and Susan Sontag have in common?") Bill Maher lost his network TV show after he refused to kowtow to the "terrorists are cowards" line, and Noam Chomsky was virtually declared a traitor for calling America a terrorist state and warning that a violent response to 9/11 would backfire.

A personal example: In a Salon piece I wrote before the 2004 elections, when the worst of the patriotic fervor had long subsided, I wrote, "Heretical as it is to say, the terror attacks proved that it is possible to overreact -- more specifically, to react foolishly -- to an attack that left 3,000 dead." The idea that we had "overreacted" to this sacred event was so explosive, even then, that my editor flagged the line and questioned me about it. In the end the line stayed, but I write for Salon -- one of the few major media outlets that were consistently against the war from the beginning, one that has no corporate owner and is aggressively independent. How many such sentiments ended up on cutting-room floors across the country -- or were never even typed? As Mark Hertsgaard noted in his important study of the media's weakness during the Reagan years, "On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency," the most effective censorship is self-censorship.

In short, the attacks not only killed almost 3,000 Americans, but also killed the mainstream media's ability to challenge the administration -- one that was expert at framing all dissent as bordering on treason. When Ari Fleischer infamously said that "all Americans ... need to watch what they say, watch what they do," the mainstream media obeyed. This timorousness was brought into stark relief by the far more trenchant and critical perspectives offered by analysts, often academics, who didn't write for a mass audience, and who therefore had not learned, as so many mainstream journalists have, to defer to the best and brightest and make their opinions conform to an imagined American center.

Time and again, in the run-up to war and during its early phase, I was amazed at the difference between the clear-eyed analysis to be found in books, and the mushy centrist pap that dominated the papers and TV. It was a kind of surreal battle of books vs. the mass media -- and books won hands down.

Rashid Khalidi's "Resurrecting Empire," written before and during the early days of the Iraq war, accurately predicted the quagmire that America was about to step into, hammering home the notion that for people in the Middle East, who have a long historical memory of imperialist oppression, our "noble" mission would not be seen as such. Michael Mann's "Incoherent Empire," also written just before and in the early days of the Iraq war, exposed the incoherence of Bush's "war on terror." Mann pointed out that there is a fundamental difference between "national" terrorists like Hamas and "international" ones like al-Qaida, and that treating them as if they were the same, as Bush moralistically did and still does, was a catastrophic blunder. And Malise Ruthven's "A Fury for God," which came out before the Iraq war, traced the historical and intellectual roots of violent Islamism through the Muslim Brotherhood to Sayyid Qutb, noted the corrosive effect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Muslim minds, and cautioned that "another Gulf War will do far more harm than good."

Not all was lost. Some of the best breaking commentary was on the Internet, on blogs like Juan Cole's "Informed Comment" and Helena Cobban's "Just World News," but these sites had a limited readership. There were some notable exceptions on the print side, like the superb reporting of Knight Ridder's Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel, who aggressively reported out the Bush administration's bogus claims about the "threat" posed by Saddam Hussein. The Washington Post's Walter Pincus also questioned Bush administration claims about WMD (his big pre-war story on this subject, after almost being killed, was relegated to page A-17). And the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh and Mark Danner, writing for the New York Review of Books, also distinguished themselves with excellent coverage of Abu Ghraib, following the thread that led directly from the blood-spattered rooms outside Baghdad to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

But such authors and journalists were few and far between, and they were almost never seen on TV. Long into the Iraq war, much of the mainstream media continued to fixate on Saddam Hussein's missing WMD and bloviate about the challenges of "reshaping the Middle East," ignoring these deeper arguments. It was a stark illustration of the difference between journalism and scholarship.

Even before Iraq and the Bush presidency revealed its feet of clay, American journalism was not in one of its heroic phases. The press is less aggressive than it was in the Watergate era. Its adversarial role has been weakened. It defers more to authority. It is tamer, more docile, less threatening to what the great Israeli journalist Amira Hass called "the centers of power."

There are a number of reasons for this softening of journalism's backbone. One is economic. The decline of newspapers, the rise of infotainment, and media company owners' insistence on delivering high returns to their shareholders have diminished resources and led to a bottom-line fixation unconducive to aggressive reporting. There are big bucks to be made in being aggressively adversarial, but most of those bucks are on the right, not the left. The meteoric success of right-wing media outlets like Fox News and ranting demagogues like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter has not encouraged media owners, too shortsighted to see that there are viable alternatives to the kind of bland national nanny-ism manifest on the networks, to pursue real journalism. (The blogosphere represents the beginning of a national revolt against the now-discredited media gatekeepers.)

Another is the opiating effect of corporate culture: Major media has become increasingly bland and toothless, just like the huge bureaucracies that own it and that are increasingly indistinguishable from each other and from the federal government. It is harder to "monitor the centers of power" when you work for a gigantic corporation that is itself at the bull's-eye of power.

Then there is the Faustian trade-off of "access" journalism, to which, as the Judith Miller debacle revealed, more and more prominent journalists have succumbed. As Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg told Editor and Publisher in 2003, this is a cardinal journalistic sin. "It is irresponsible for anyone in the press to take your understanding exclusively from government accounts, from the president or secretary of defense or lower-level officials," Ellsberg said. "That definitely includes backgrounders that purport to be the 'real' inside story. Just as press conferences are a vehicle for lying to the public, backgrounders are a vehicle for lying to the press, convincing the press they are getting the inside story when all they are getting is a story that is sellable to the press."

As the war drums beat, the Beltway press bought and bought and bought -- before they discovered they'd been sold.

A closely related issue is the rise of a super-class of journalists, mostly TV talking heads, who are as wealthy and famous as the people they cover -- and who routinely hobnob with them at parties and social events. These celebrity journalists may make a show of their "toughness," but they swim happily in the conventional wisdom that flows all around them. And as it relates to the Middle East, that conventional wisdom is bankrupt.

Which leads us to the third and final area where journalism failed in the aftermath of 9/11: ideology. Evaluating why America was attacked required journalists to learn about the history of the Arab/Muslim world -- and not just skim one of Bernard Lewis' tendentious articles discounting Arab grievances. Evaluating how dangerous Saddam Hussein really was required knowledge of the contemporary Middle East -- not just a quick read of Kenneth Pollack's "The Threatening Storm," which argued that Saddam posed so great a threat to America that war was necessary. Assessing Bush's entire "war on terror" required a dispassionate exploration of terrorism itself -- an understanding that terrorism is essentially a form of asymmetrical warfare, that it often succeeds by provoking an overreaction, that it can be waged in the service of legitimate goals, and that most terrorists are not cowards or madmen -- free of 9/11 emotionalism. Indeed, every one of these issues needed to be looked at completely objectively, without sacred cows of any kind.

None of this happened for three closely related reasons. The first was simple ignorance: Most mainstream journalists simply didn't know very much about the Middle East, and in thrall to a kind of bad humility, deemed it above their pay grade to find out.

Second, American society in general has a strongly pro-Israel orientation -- one that journalists generally share (or are too intimidated or ignorant to contest) -- which inevitably guides their assumptions and beliefs about Arabs, terrorism and the Middle East in general. The historian Tony Judt argued in the London Review of Books that the support so many liberal journalists and pundits gave to Bush's war is best explained by their backing for Israel. This orientation, because it is deemed "appropriate," affects virtually every aspect of the media's coverage of the Middle East. Arab and Muslim perspectives, because they tend to be anti-Israeli, are rarely heard in the American media; if they had been, many Americans might have had quite a different assessment of the Iraq war's chances of success. Instead, the U.S. media works within a tiny ideological spectrum on the Middle East, using the same center-right and right-wing sources again and again. To take just one specific example, the New York Times, when it needs comment on Israeli affairs, often relies on experts from the Washington Institute on Near East Affairs (WINEP), a center-right, pro-Israel think tank. The Times rarely asks center-left or left-wing Middle East experts like Cobban or M.J. Rosenberg to comment on Israel. There is no evidence that the Iraq debacle, which these right-wing pundits almost universally supported, has led the media to rethink its sources or its ideological orientation.

Still worse, perhaps, the taboo against discussing this subject in public helped stifle vitally needed debate about the war. As Michael Kinsley pointed out more than four years ago in Slate, the fact that a large motivation for the war was influential neoconservatives' support for Israel was "the proverbial elephant in the room: Everybody sees it, no one mentions it." Kinsley correctly points out that there were honorable motivations behind this silence: no one wanted to put in play the crude anti-Semitic smear that this war was drummed up by Jews whose primary allegiance was to Israel. This is a caricature. As Kinsley and I have both argued, for the neoconservative Jews who played a key role in brainstorming the war, it was simply taken as axiomatic that America's interests and Israel's are identical. But that assumption of shared interests is itself highly problematic, to say the least. Some commentators, like Philip Weiss, have begun to raise the sensitive issue of the role played by the neocons' concern for Israel's security. In years to come, historians will ponder why America under Bush adopted, in effect, the Israeli position toward the Arab world without the ramifications of this radical and extremely risky move ever being discussed, or indeed the parallels even being acknowledged.

Finally, the media was unable to deal with the abstract and highly ideological motivations for Bush's war -- especially because those motivations, as Paul Wolfowitz notoriously admitted, were never really made clear. To oppose the war, one had to challenge the two real reasons behind it -- the neoconservative crusade against "Islamofascism" and the cold warriors' desire to assert American power -- head on. But this meant not only taking on the sacred cows of 9/11 and Israel, but also dealing with the refusal of the administration to publicly acknowledge these abstract reasons, and challenging a White House that "for bureaucratic reasons," in Wolfowitz's words, was hiding behind its trumped-up "evidence" about Saddam's WMD. For the mainstream media -- unprepared, intimidated, caught up in the torrent of Beltway wisdom and flag-waving -- this was far too much to deal with. As Kristina Borjesson noted, the result was that the media signed off on a war that it itself did not understand. There could be no more damning indictment.

We should note one more reason for the media's Iraq failure: the Bush administration. The mainstream media, especially in its current enfeebled form, is simply not equipped to deal with an regime as secretive, manipulative, vengeful and, not to put too fine a point on it, malignant as the present one. Watching the mainstream press try to contend with the Bush-Cheney gang is like watching the Polish cavalry galloping up in 1939 as the Wehrmacht tanks approach.

So has the media learned its lesson? And what does the future hold? In many ways, the media has definitely improved. After the war turned south and the WMD failed to appear, most news organizations began to get much tougher on the Bush administration. The New York Times, in particular, has found its backbone, roasting the administration for its incompetence and duplicity and turning an increasingly skeptical eye on its claims of progress in Iraq. And from the beginning of the war, the media's reporting from the field in Iraq has been far better than its analysis.

The problem, of course, is that the press only really turned on Bush when his ratings began to fall -- another indication that the Fourth Estate has become more of a weathervane than a truth teller.

The final verdict is not yet in. The media has improved, without question, but it has a lot of making up to do. The structural problems -- psychological, institutional, ideological -- that played so big a role in its collapse have not gone away, and there is no reason to think they will. And then there's war, which reduced so much of the media to flag-waving courtiers. If the media has learned that a bugle blast can be sounded by a fool, that not every war the United States launches is wise or necessary, and that self-righteousness is not an argument, maybe something can be salvaged from this sorry chapter after all.

http://www.salon.com/opinion/kamiya/2007/04/10/media_failure/print.html

Six U.S. Attorneys Given 2nd Posting in Washington

Six U.S. Attorneys Given 2nd Posting in Washington

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 10, 2007; A03

A half-dozen sitting U.S. attorneys also serve as aides to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales or are assigned other Washington postings, performing tasks that take them away from regular duties in their districts for months or even years at a time, according to officials and department records.

Acting Associate Attorney General William W. Mercer, for example, has been effectively absent from his job as U.S. attorney in Montana for nearly two years -- prompting the chief federal judge in Billings to demand his removal and call Mercer's office "a mess."

Another U.S. attorney, Michael J. Sullivan of Boston, has been in Washington for the past six months as acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He is awaiting confirmation to head the agency permanently while still juggling his responsibilities in Massachusetts.

The number of U.S. attorneys pulling double duty in Washington is the focus of growing concern from other prosecutors and from members of the federal bench, according to legal experts and government officials.

The growing reliance on federal prosecutors to fill Washington-based jobs also comes amid controversy over the firings of eight other U.S. attorneys last year. One of them, David C. Iglesias of New Mexico, was publicly accused by the Justice Department of being an "absentee landlord" who was away from his job too much.

"I can't think of a time when there's been this many U.S. attorneys doing double duty at one time," said Dennis Boyd, executive director of the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys, which represents current federal prosecutors.

Justice spokesman Brian Roehrkasse characterized the fact that U.S. attorneys were filling other Washington-based Justice jobs as both unremarkable and beneficial. He cited four examples of chief prosecutors who also served stints in the deputy attorney general's office during the George H.W. Bush administration, and two similar examples during the Clinton years.

"Having U.S. attorneys serve at the department ensures that a local perspective is brought to policy-making decisions," Roehrkasse said in a statement. ". . . U.S. Attorneys assigned to the Department's headquarters also gain a national perspective and can bring this perspective and national focus to their districts."

But Boyd said the prolonged absence of a chief prosecutor can lead to a lack of direction and leadership in U.S. attorneys' offices. The Justice Department made a similar argument in defending the firing of Iglesias, alleging that he had entrusted too much responsibility to his first assistant.

"Quite frankly, U.S. attorneys are hired to run the office, not their first assistants," William E. Moschella, the principal associate deputy attorney general, told the House Judiciary Committee last month.

Iglesias filed a complaint with federal investigators last week, alleging that his dismissal amounted to discrimination based on his status as an officer in the Navy Reserve, which took him away from the job for 40 to 45 days a year. Alleged absenteeism has been the Justice Department's main public criticism of Iglesias, although officials have more recently added concerns about his handling of voter fraud and immigration cases to their arguments about him.

"It's a double standard and it's hypocritical," Iglesias said. "Not one judge from my district wrote a letter to main Justice saying I was gone too much. . . . Most of my absences were military-related."

At the moment, at least six sitting U.S. attorneys, including Mercer and Sullivan, also hold senior spots at Justice. Each prosecutor continues to draw a regular U.S. attorney's salary and is not paid extra for the executive position, Roehrkasse said.

The most prominent example is Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, who was named special prosecutor in the CIA leak case in December 2003. Others include U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan of Pittsburgh, also the acting director of the Office of Violence Against Women, and U.S. Attorney Kevin J. O'Connor of Connecticut, who is also an associate deputy attorney general in Washington coordinating anti-gang policies.

The most recent addition is U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg of Alexandria, who was named last month as the new chief of staff to the attorney general. Gonzales's previous chief aide, D. Kyle Sampson, resigned in the fallout over the U.S. attorney firings, which he coordinated.

Mercer currently wears two hats as the U.S. attorney in Montana and as third-in-command at Justice, behind Gonzales and his deputy, Paul J. McNulty. Mercer has been pulling double duty since June 2005, when he was first appointed to a different executive position at Justice headquarters.

His regular absence from the U.S. attorney's office in Billings has caused severe friction between Mercer and U.S. District Chief Judge Donald W. Molloy, a Clinton appointee. Molloy wrote a letter to Gonzales in October 2005 demanding that Mercer be replaced.

Molloy wrote that Mercer's absence had led to "a lack of leadership" in the Montana office and created "untoward difficulties for the court" and for career prosecutors. The judge also questioned whether Mercer complied with residency requirements.

Gonzales wrote back the next month that Mercer was handling both jobs admirably, and suggested that Mercer's absence would be short-lived.

Relations between Mercer and Molloy have not improved since. Molloy berated Mercer during a court hearing last year, accusing him of bringing weak cases to court to pump up statistics and telling him: "You have no credibility -- none."

"Your lawyers are not getting their briefs in on time," Molloy said. "You're in Washington, D.C., and you ought to be here in Montana doing your work. Your office is a mess."

Molloy declined to comment last week.

Mercer has figured prominently in the U.S. attorney firings, in part because he told prosecutors in Arizona and Nevada they were being removed to make way for new Republican loyalists.

Roehrkasse said Mercer has "effectively served" in his simultaneous postings but that "Congress should move forward quickly to confirm his nomination, which has been pending for eight months." Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have indicated they will not proceed on the appointment until after the panel's probe of the U.S. attorney firings is completed.

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/09/AR2007040901227_pf.html

Monday, April 09, 2007

Where Is This Iraq "Progress"?

Where Is This Iraq "Progress"?

BAGHDAD, March 29, 2007(CBS) This story was written by CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey, in Baghdad.

Someone once said that the job of president (or prime minister, or any other kind of national leader) should not be given to anyone who actually wants it. That being unrealistic, perhaps there ought to at least be a rule that says no one should be allowed to seek such employment unless they demonstrate a grasp of reality greater than the reach of their own ambitions.

Case in point, at least from the perspective of Baghdad, which is, after all, the epicenter of the issue that dominates the U.S. presidential "race", is Senator John McCain's recent analysis of the situation here.

According to transcripts of his appearance on CNN's "Late Edition", the senator confirmed that he had made the following statement: "There are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods today."

He went on to add "General Petraeus goes out there almost every day in an unarmed Humvee." Apart from the fact that he probably meant "unarmored", the statement displays a woeful ignorance of the news from here.

Even those who buy the argument that the media "reports only bad things," can hardly deny that there is bad news. Surely that ought to count double for someone seeking a job that includes the description of commander-in-chief for a war he says may not be over by the time the position next becomes vacant.

For example, the Associated Press' first lead of the day today (March 29, 2007) began thus: "A bomb planted under a parked car tore through an outdoor market in a mixed Baghdad neighborhood Thursday, killing several people and wounding at least 20, police and hospital officials said."

In other news, two policemen were killed when they approached a car containing a corpse and it exploded. Gunmen targeted the head of the traffic police this morning. He escaped but two traffic policemen were killed. The bodies of 13 people were found across Baghdad. They had all been shot. The deputy governor of Kirkuk escaped a roadside bomb. A female engineer was kidnapped as she left her office in Diwaniya. Iraqi forces arrested 14 insurgents and found a cache of weapons in Hilla.

By an unofficial count, there have been seven major explosions in Baghdad so far today, at least some of them car bombs.

There was, however, some good news, at least in the context of Iraq. The U.S. military reported that only one of two truck bombs used in attacks on Iraqi and American forces in Falluja contained chlorine. And things could improve. It is only one p.m. local time as this is being written.

Senator McCain has visited Iraq in the past, and no doubt will again as the U.S. election campaign gains momentum. VIPs are generally flown to the Green Zone (a.k.a. the "International Zone"), which houses the American and other embassies as well as most of the Iraqi government. A notice to U.S. embassy employees today, issued shortly before the new ambassador, Ryan Crocker, was sworn in cited "the recent increase of indirect fire attacks in the embassy compound".

The Green Zone has been hit by mortars or rockets at least six times in the last seven days. One person has been killed and ten wounded. Embassy personnel reportedly have been instructed that body armor and helmets are now required for all "outdoor activities" within the four square-mile zone. That includes walking to the cafeteria.

If the Senator decides to hang out with the troops, he might take note of the signs and regulations that govern their conduct and provide a good indication as to how things are going here. Before leaving the sprawling U.S. base known as Camp Victory, which is adjacent to the Baghdad International Airport, there is a special place for weapons to be loaded, and anti-IED devices known as "Warlocks" switched on.

At every exit from the camps around the airport and the Green Zone there is a sign which reads: "All Weapons Red. Lock and Load."

No one in their right mind goes on the streets here without security, a situation succinctly summed up by retired General Barry McCaffrey in a document he compiled in his job as a West Point professor. The general, who until late last year was of the publicly-held opinion that things were improving, was quoted in the New York Times as saying that because the government here does not hold sway in any province, "no Iraqi government official, coalition soldier, diplomat, reporter, foreign NGO [nongovernmental organization], nor contractor can walk the streets of Baghdad, nor Mosul, nor Kirkuk, nor Basra, nor Tikrit, nor Najaf, nor Ramadi, without heavily armed protection."

When Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki went to Fallujah earlier this month to talk to tribal sheikhs who are now willing to take American money and arms to fight the insurgents, the honour guard of Iraqi troops on hand to meet his helicopter did not have magazines in their AK47s. All weapons had been cleared and ammunition taken away before he arrived. The only lethal weapons were in the hands of al-Maliki's personal security detail, which includes Western contractors.

For Senator McCain to claim there are places here where all is well is to woefully minimize the dangers faced by the troops he otherwise so admirably supports. A patrol of military police on their way to one of the about-to-be-established Joint Security Stations last week provides another case in point.

Leave aside the fact that the soldiers run a gauntlet of IEDs every day just to get there, and the convoy had to stop, gunners nervously scanning the surrounding houses and crossroads, until someone decided that a piece of debris in the road did not hide an IED. It was merely part of the seat of Humvee that had been blown up the day before, killing four soldiers. Once inside the walls of the fortified police station of their students and supposed allies, no American soldier took off a single piece of protective gear. American sentries backed up the Iraqis on the gate and roof. Humvee drivers stayed with their vehicles.

A young sergeant was assigned to accompany myself and cameraman Mark LaGanga wherever we went. When I suggested that it was fine and the sergeant could take a break, he replied quietly; "No sir. I need to be with you. Wouldn't want to take the risk of you being kidnapped."

"In a police station?" I asked. "You're kidding."

"No sir," he replied, "I am not."

Any time Senator McCain wants to walk the streets of Baghdad, unarmed and without a serious security detail, we'd be glad to lend him a camera so he can record his experience.

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/03/29/opinion/printable2622349.shtml

Wolfowitz Responds to Controversy Over Staffer

Wolfowitz Responds to Controversy Over Staffer

Wall Street Journal Washington Wire

World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, in a memo to the bank’s staff, responded today to the growing controversy surrounding the salary paid to a staffer with whom he is romantically linked after she was detailed to work at the U.S. State Department in September 2005.

“I…acted on the advice of the [World Bank] Board’s Ethics Committee to work out an agreement that balanced the interests of the institution and the rights of the staff member in an exceptional and unprecedented situation,” he said.

The World Bank’s staff association had said Shaha Ali Riza, who remained on the bank’s payroll while working at State for the Middle East Partnership Initiative, had received $61,000 in raises since she left, a sum the association said is out of line with bank rules governing salary increases.

Her annual salary — $193,590 — exceeds that of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and as a foreign national working for an international institution, Riza isn’t subject to the same U.S. income taxes as Rice.

The bank’s 24 executive directors — representatives of the countries that own it — said last week they “have decided to acquire all the information related to this matter and will respond to the issues raised as soon as possible.” The executive directors asked World Bank General Counsel Ana Palacio, a Wolfowitz appointee and former Spanish foreign minister, to handle the inquiry.

The text of Mr. Wolfowitz’s memo follows:

“Over the past few weeks, information regarding the external assignment of a World Bank staff member has raised concerns among some of you about upholding Bank Group rules regarding the rights, obligations, and fair treatment of all employees,” Wolfowitz said. “I would like to assure the staff that I have always acted to uphold these rules to the best of my ability, and I will continue to do so.”

“The case of the staff member mentioned prompted me to seek the advice of the Board of Executive Directors upon my arrival at the Bank. I subsequently acted on the advice of the Board’s Ethics Committee to work out an agreement that balanced the interests of the institution and the rights of the staff member in an exceptional and unprecedented situation. Just as one example, a normal external assignment is voluntary and for a maximum of three years, but this one was involuntary and for the length of my service.”

“As President of this institution, I accept full responsibility for the actions taken in this case.

“I have already indicated to the Board my intention to cooperate fully in their review of the details of the case. In particular, I will ensure that the Board has access to the facts in this case, in a manner that also respects the Bank’s rules concerning the right of every staff member to the confidentiality of his or her records.”

“What remains of the utmost importance to me is the protection of the interests of this institution as a whole, and our need to remain focused on our agenda of helping the world’s poor.”
Permalink | Trackback URL: http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2007/04/09/wolfowitz-responds-to-controversy-over-staffer/trackback/

Juan Cole - John McCain's Iraq problem

John McCain's Iraq problem

His rosy statements about Iraq were aimed at GOP primary voters, but they suggest the would-be president doesn't understand the war he'd be fighting.

By Juan Cole

Apr. 09, 2007 | On Sunday, April 8, Sen. John McCain appeared on CBS's "60 Minutes" in an attempt to do damage control. Pressed on his assertion, in a CNN interview last week, that Gen. David Petraeus goes about Baghdad in an unarmored Humvee, he admitted that he was wrong. "Of course I'm going to misspeak," he observed, as though he could put the controversy behind him with weasel words. But he did not actually back off his recent sunny pronouncements about the situation in Iraq. "I believe we can succeed, and I believe the consequences of failure are catastrophic."

In the past two weeks, McCain has produced a trove of Iraq-related images and quotes that are sure to dog his faltering bid for the presidency. On March 26, during an interview with conservative radio host Bill Bennett, McCain said, "There are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods today." The next day, he insisted to CNN's Wolf Blitzer that Gen. Petraeus was driving around armorless. Then, on April 1, in an attempt to back up his words, McCain went on his infamous Baghdad shopping trip. The Internet was soon awash with mocking photos of McCain strolling blithely through the Shurja market in a Kevlar vest. On Sunday, "60 Minutes" ran footage of McCain dickering over a rug with a merchant, then pulled back to show the senator surrounded by heavily armed and armored U.S. troops, and also mentioned that attack helicopters were hovering overhead. In the past year, only the image of Israeli Minister of Defense Amir Peretz looking out on the battlefield through binoculars with the caps still over the lenses has made a politician look more foolish.

Any Republican running for president must face the fact that a year and a half out from November 2008, two-thirds of likely GOP primary voters still back President Bush on Iraq. Having been beaten by Bush in the primaries in 2000, McCain's strategy now seems to be out-Bushing the competition by insisting that "things are getting better in Iraq." He is targeting precisely those remaining voters who keep telling pollsters Bush is "doing a good job in Iraq." But by reaching out to the faithful, McCain has exposed himself to ridicule from everybody else. Four years after the fall of Baghdad, he still doesn't seem to understand the facts on the ground.

First of all, contra McCain, there is no evidence that things are getting better in Iraq. The Nouri al-Maliki government began implementing the U.S.-directed "surge" --what is known in Iraq as "the new security plan" -- in late January. While deaths decreased in Baghdad itself, especially killings by sectarian death squads, other sorts of violence increased in the capital, including car bombings and mortar attacks. And the guerrillas, melting away before the expanded U.S. presence in the capital, simply did more killing in other places, especially to the north and west. Iraqi government officials admitted early last week that while in February, 1,806 persons were killed in political violence nationwide, in March the number rose to 2,078. Allowing for the greater number of days in March, the daily death toll still climbed slightly, from 64.5 deaths a day in February to 67 last month.

Horrific attacks continue in Iraq. On April 8, six U.S. troops died, four as a result of a roadside bomb in the violent Diyala province. In Ramadi on April 6, a truck bomber unleashed chlorine gas, killing 30 persons and wounding or sickening nearly 100. Dozens of Shiites have been kidnapped in the past week in regions around the capital, and many have since shown up dead. On April 7, there were at least five roadside bombings in Baghdad, several neighborhoods of the capital were hit with mortar or rocket fire, and the bodies of 12 people killed by sectarian death squads were discovered by police. In the city of Baquba, an hour northeast of the capital, 27 bodies were discovered on April 7, and in the northern Turkmen city of Tal Afar, trumpeted as a success story by George W. Bush, 11 corpses were found in the streets. And on April 2, the day after McCain's photo op in Baghdad, some of the merchants from the largely Shiite market he had visited were murdered. They had gone north looking for work when they were ambushed and killed by Sunni Arab guerrillas.

The al-Maliki government still appears paralyzed politically. Its Cabinet approved a new oil law with provisions for fair revenue sharing among sectarian and ethnic groups, but the Parliament has balked at taking it up. There has been no practical movement in Parliament for revision of "de-Baathification" measures that resulted in the firing and marginalization of tens of thousands of Sunni Arabs who once belonged to the Arab nationalist Baath Party, but who otherwise have not been found guilty of any wrongdoing.

The week before McCain asserted that Americans could walk around freely in some Baghdad neighborhoods, guerrillas had killed two Americans with a rocket attack on the Green Zone, the supposedly safe compound in downtown Baghdad that houses the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi government offices. In the aftermath, the U.S. Embassy issued instructions that all personnel moving between buildings in the Green Zone were to wear combat helmets and other "personal protection equipment." Most reporters covering Iraq can remember a time when U.S. government personnel in the Green Zone could lounge safely by the pool. A week after it became official that such sunbathing would have to be done in steel helmets and Kevlar vests, McCain chose to tell Bill Bennett how safe it was to take a walk in the Red Zone.

In fact, however, McCain's howler about a safe, leisurely stroll through Baghdad is only the most publicized of the many questionable statements he made during his chat with Bennett. The whole interview is worth unpacking for what it reveals about this would-be president's misunderstanding of the central foreign policy issue of the day. He doesn't seem to grasp what he would be getting into as commander in chief.

McCain began by attacking Democrats in Congress for proposing what amounted to a retreat at a time when the U.S. military was finally making progress. He complained that none of the Democrats has been honest about what would likely happen in the aftermath of such a withdrawal. "We will see chaos and genocide in the region and we will be back and they will follow us home," he roared. He added, "I would much rather lose a campaign than lose a war."

For McCain, the conviction that the U.S. military is now turning things around only underscores Democratic fecklessness. "We've got a new general; we've got a great strategy. Can't we give it a chance to succeed?" he told Bennett. Moreover, McCain asked, if the U.S. pulled out, what would happen next? The radio host tried to help McCain with his own historically dubious answer. "We saw in 1975 what happened," said Bennett. "We may be doing a replay of that now."

McCain was not satisfied with the evocation of a lost war in Indochina. He became animated, replying, "The difference is that the Vietnamese didn't want to follow us home. These guys want to follow us home. Listen to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's statements in his confession down in Guantánamo. Look at [Abu Musab al-]Zarqawi, look at bin Laden, look what these people say. It is not Iraq they are after, my friend. It's us. And this is a seminal moment."

With that line of reasoning, McCain revealed that he has no grasp whatsoever of what is going on in Iraq or what is at stake in a U.S. disengagement. The Iraqis do not want to follow the U.S. home any more than Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap did. The war in Iraq never was and is not now, in any significant way, connected to al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The U.S. is fighting 50 guerrilla cells in Iraq. Most of them are Sunni Arab Iraqis. Some are Baathist or ex-Baathist nationalists. Some of are Sunni Muslim revivalists or Salafis. Some are tribal, others based in the cities. They are uninterested in bombing Tucson, Ariz.. They want U.S. troops out of Iraq, and they want a renegotiation of the post-invasion political order, which has seen Sunnis marginalized while Shiite clergymen and Kurdish warlords have U.S. license to run the country.

It is true that the U.S. occupation of a major Arab Muslim country has drawn a few hundred Sunni Arab volunteers to come fight against U.S. troops there, and that some of them see a propaganda value in rebranding themselves as "al-Qaida." But the technical definition of al-Qaida is operatives who have pledged fealty to bin Laden, met with him and been given a mission by him -- something the current crop of fighters would find it difficult to do. Confusing the plans and aspirations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a Kuwaiti of Pakistani heritage and a planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, with those of Baath leader Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri or Iraqi Salafi Harith al-Dhari is the sort of mistake that underpinned the Bush administration's tragic invasion of Iraq in the first place. The foreign fighters would have their throats slit by local Iraqis if the civil war came to an end.

McCain appeared to have no sense of how ironic it was for him to cite Zarqawi in this connection. For several years, the Bush administration and Pentagon spokesmen trotted out Zarqawi, a Jordanian Salafi jihadist, to explain all the violence in Iraq, equating him with al-Qaida. But Zarqawi had had indifferent relations with bin Laden when he was in Afghanistan, running a rival organization called "Monotheism and Holy War." He forbade his followers to send money to bin Laden. When Zarqawi was tracked down and killed in the spring of 2006, it made no difference whatsoever to the war, which actually intensified after his death. He clearly was not behind most of the violence in the country, nor is "al-Qaida."

Because he thinks that a temporary surge of a few thousand U.S. troops into Baghdad can permanently bestow security on a huge country of 26 million, McCain has bet his presidential bid on a highly unlikely scenario. Counterinsurgency experts agree that insurgencies are best and most easily defeated early on, before they gain widespread popular support and lay down effective "rat lines" -- covert smuggling paths. Once they are ensconced, defeating them militarily becomes an extremely difficult proposition, and they are better negotiated with. Since McCain thinks he is fighting Osama bin Laden in Iraq, he cannot support the politicking with Iraq's Sunni Arabs that will be necessary to end the guerrilla war. He says he would rather lose a campaign than lose a war. Because he cannot understand what is really going on in Iraq, he will lose both.

http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2007/04/09/mccain_iraq/print.html