After a few Thanksgiving Days around crusty New Englanders, several of whom share my last name, I’ve been made fully aware of the in-your face reputation our fair city carries.
Coming back home, I see that our speak-up-annoyingly tradition isn’t confined to the New York City limits. Some might argue that it’s spread virally from our fair city, but New Jersey has its own standards of loud and inelegant public whining to live up to. It’s comforting to see Jersey hasn’t slipped up in meeting its quota while I was away.
In the wake of one of the most ridiculous mudslinging contests in recent memory, Governor-elect Jon Corzine now has the potentially elevating honor of appointing his own successor to fill out his last year in the US Senate. Of course, the process hasn’t yet included ‘elevating’ in its vocabulary.
In addition to almost every member of the state’s Democratic congressional delegation yammering to be picked, the cast of characters in the Jersey sweepstakes includes the unwilling Bruce Springsteen and Acting Governor Richard Codey. So far, Codey, the near-universal choice of Jerseyites polled on their preference, is about the only politician who doesn’t seem to actually want the job.
In case Corzine doesn’t have enough face time with the eligible bachelors to choose intelligently between them, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York is busy ‘interviewing’ each contestant for him, whether Corzine likes it or not. Ah, the New York connection…
”there is a history of animus between Schumer
and Corzine, dating to a speech Corzine delivered
last year at the Washington Press Club.
"Sharing a media market with Chuck Schumer is like
sharing a banana with a monkey," Corzine lamented.
"Take a little bite out of it and he will throw his own
feces at you."
Corzine, who said he meant this facetiously, would
Apparently, the apology hasn’t been fully accepted.
One choice that would elevate public discourse for a while and might actually help focus public attention on the unfinished business of understanding September 11th would be to appoint Kristen Breitweiser, one of the most courageous of “the widows” of 9-11.
Breitweiser could push the Senate for a truer accounting of what happened to allow the tragedy of the attacks to occur, despite a variety of warning signals. She has the kind of stature, having lobbied for the creation of the 9-11 Commission, to make some waves about the attempts to sweep our national security failures under the rug even now.
Breitweiser, who came to believe that the current Administration was not a friend to the families of the dead, despite using their loved ones to wrap themselves in as they beat the drums for a war against Iraq, would have unassailable credentials to speak on their behalf.
During the 2004 campaign, Breitweiser explained her support for a new Administration by saying, "I have a 5-year-old that lost her father and thinks a dad is an image in a photo. She has no idea that a dad is supposed to be real and hug you. I want to know that she's going to be safer. That when she grows up, she's not going to die because of payback for a bad foreign policy."
Imagine actually giving Breitweiser a platform to insure that her daughter and all our kids get a fair chance to live in a world that isn’t kept in the dark, moving towards greater openness instead of continued secrecy.
The Guardian, in an article by Dominic Timms today, indicates that President Bush may have considered bombing the Arabic television news station Al Jazeera in US ally Qatar. Bush’s comments, which surfaced in a leaked UK government memo yesterday, alleged that the American president suggested bombing the station’s news offices in Doha at the height of last year's Iraqi insurgency in Falluja.
The memo was further described by the Indian Express as a five-page transcript of a conversation between Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, during Blair’s April 16, 2004, visit to Washington. It first surfaced yesterday in the UK, but publication was impeded by a British government threat to prosecute the Daily Mirror under the Official Secrets Act. According to the Guardian, it is the first time that the Blair government has threatened to prosecute a newspaper for publishing the contents of leaked government documents.
Al Jazeera reports that the White House reaction was not to react: “We are not going to dignify something so outlandish and inconceivable with a response," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said on Tuesday.
UPDATE- Jane at Firedoglake has run a piece on this, noting that Al Jazeera’s Baghdad office WAS in fact bombed, killing one of their journalists. Crooks and Liars has a link to CNN coverage. John Plunkett in the Guardian follows up on the ramifications of the Qatar story, which is spurring renewed interest in the fatal bombing in 2003 of Al Jazeera’s Baghdad offices by US forces.
Texas justice is reputed to be rough and tough. But in the Ruben Cantu case, Lise Olsen of the Houston Chronicle reports, it was lethal and probably fixed.
Anyone concerned that the death penalty in the United States leads to innocent men and women ending up on death row should read Olsen’s story about a boy who’s real crime appears to be pissing off the police over an unrelated pool-hall shooting.
Cantu’s dead, but Steve Benen cites his execution as a place to start thinking about a moratorium on carrying out the ultimate retribution.
There are moments when it seems there is really a tendency for the universe to eventually lean towards justice. All the other discouraging moments notwithstanding, surprising discoveries and events make it hard to discount the feeling that those who abuse with impunity, no matter how powerful they may be, will not always do so. We have hope.
Ginger Thompson writes about the discovery of 'missing' National Police files in Guatemala...
There are now voices (like Jonathan Alter's) in the maelstrom around Iraq begging us to think about what to do next, as opposed to rehashing the cause of the failure. I agree. It’s time. I say this as someone who’s spent two and a half years shouting in print about what I viewed as a bigger potential disaster-in-the-making than Vietnam. It’s time, for the moment, to let historians and prosecutors do the job of setting the past straight while we figure out which direction is home from today's Iraq.
I think it’s clear now to most Americans that the war was either a willful, ignorant mistake, or for others, an idea gone horribly wrong in the execution. I no longer care, for the present moment, whether my position is deemed correct or another more so. I suspect that John Murtha and I would agree on little else about American military adventures in the last half-century, but that we would definitely agree that we’ve got to get our troops out of Iraq soon.
The question becomes, “What method will be the least harmful, both to our soldiers, and to the nascent civil structures in Iraq?”
As I’ve said in this space before, in a perfect universe, a peacekeeping force made up of non-American forces and under UN command has a chance of providing a breathing period for legitimate Iraqi security force to take hold, instead of the country sinking further into civil war. It’s worth a try, but would require an Administration about-face on the value of UN peacekeeping, relative to American unilateralism.
I don’t realistically think the Administration or the majority in Congress will even consider this, so I also have to wonder next if the fallback position has to be to protect our troops and call for a more rapid pullout, as Representative Murtha has done. Others suggest that a multilateral force should be recruited to support American troops there in reduced numbers.
The first option is hard to support politically for members of Congress. It opens up members to charges of defeatism and the ridiculous personal arm wrestling that Murtha is now beginning to endure. But the second option strikes me as an absurd policy course, doomed to failure because it identifies any new force as supporting the original American occupation and by extension, being considered part of that occupation by the population of Iraq.
So what’s an American patriot to do?
I think we have to be flexible, talk with anyone willing to dialogue, and be willing to try creative political initiatives. We have to accept that unless the present Administration turns around and desires to be part of the solution, it’ll be up to Congress. Congress has to forge an unholy alliance between moderate ex-hawks of both parties and the strongly antiwar faction in order to force the Administration’s hand. We must work with military leaders and former military officials to build a consensus around strategies that protect our troops, while helping the brass save face.
The main point has to be to stop the pointless bleeding of both the human sort and of the policy disaster kind.
Jonathan Alter in Newsweek suggests that a plan called "Strategic Redeployment" might work. I tend to disagree, for the reason above, but think it’s worth discussing elements of the idea, or perhaps ways to make it more palatable to Iraqis:
“Lawrence J. Korb (a Reagan-era assistant
Secretary of Defense) and Brian Katulis
argue for withdrawing 80,000 of the
150,000 American troops by the end of
next year. This is not so different from what
military brass have hinted publicly (and said
clearly in private) for months. The ironic
twist on all the eye-gouging in Washington
is that hawks and doves aren't actually very
far apart. But "strategic redeployment" is not
just an elaborate retreat from Iraq. It's a
strategy for repairing the American position
there, by offering a pledge, for instance, that
the United States will not build permanent
bases in the country. The plan also calls for a
major diplomatic initiative to bring surrounding
Arab nations into Iraq as peacekeepers and to
beef up American support for democratic
institutions (currently one half of 1 percent of
U.S. expenditures in Iraq)….”
The point here is that the US needs to put an enormous focus on all the ways: diplomatic, military, constitutional, and economic, that peace and stability can be forged out of the present chaos in Iraq. It’s simply not acceptable to do any less.
Hopefully, enough safe daylight can be forged in the poisonously charged atmosphere in Congress to put together a coalition. Those who are already clamoring to seek a solution need the assistance and support of at least a small bipartisan ex-hawk block to carry votes calling for serious policy discussion, with or without the Administration as a partner. To get that, the opposition needs to give some room and cover to those hawks who are ready to separate from their original lockstep with the occupation, and the hawks need to accept the seriousness and goodwill of those who disagreed with going in originally.
At this point, “Support Our Troops” means bringing them back alive and forging some hope for future in Iraq that makes their sacrifices worthwhile.
UPDATE- Watch John Murtha on Meet the Press and see if you can argue with him about the inevitability of withdrawal with a straight face. It's really about making the right calls now— not screwing up the withdrawal as much as the Administration has screwed up the war itself. He's as sensible as a good breakfast, and the man just has no confidence left in any other course of action now.
Since the Congressional meltdown on Friday evening, Rep. John Murtha has become an instant target of hype for both GOP and Democrats. I came across a description posted Friday BEFORE the confrontation over Iraq by Steve Clemons in the Washington Note:
“Democratic hawk John Murtha is sort of like
a living version of John Wayne in Congress.
He was a marine. He put his life on the line
for his country in time of war. He's a guy of
few words. He doesn't really like reporters or
spinning stories. He hangs out on weekends
with soldiers who have had amputations or
are recovering from other war wounds at
Walter Reed Hospital.
To put it simply, Murtha is one of those tough
dudes -- out of a Tom Clancy novel -- that is
patriotic to the core and yet sees this nation's
security, military forces, and economy going
over a cliff. And he's now said so…”
Clemons also included a great description of the tactic used by the House Republican leadership to set up Murtha on Friday. The resolution that was crafted by Hastert and Co butchered Murtha’s original resolution (also posted by Clemons) in an effort to make Murtha look like an idiot. The comparison of the two resolutions makes a person wonder if it’s possible to believe that Jean Schmidt acted without prompting from the leadership in attacking Murtha personally that night. The whole effort smells like a hatchet job straight from Rove’s office.
It’ll be interesting to see Clemons’ take on what transpired while he was airborne after posting on Friday afternoon….
For Sunday political updates of note, see Bob Drogin and John Goet's LA Times piece claiming that ‘Curveball,’ the Iraqi intelligence informant who was debriefed by the German BND, gave the Germans only tidbits. These bits and vague statements were vetted and discounted, but then severely hyped by the Bush Administration to justify the 2003 invasion:
According to the Germans, President Bush mis-
characterized Curveball's information when he
warned before the war that Iraq had at least seven
mobile factories brewing biological poisons. Then-
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell also misstated
Curveball's accounts in his prewar presentation to
the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, the Germans
Curveball's German handlers for the last six years
said his information was often vague, mostly second-
hand and impossible to confirm.
"This was not substantial evidence," said a senior
German intelligence official.
Iraq is now a cloud over everything," said
Stuart Rothenberg, a nonpartisan political
analyst specializing in Congress. "It's the
800-pound gorilla in the room."
"I feel like every morning, I wake up, get a
concrete block and have to walk around
with it all day," said first-term Sen. Jim
DeMint (R-S.C.), who came to the Senate
with an ambitious agenda to overhaul Social
Security and the tax code. "We can't even
address the issues."
Carl Hulce strikes a similar note in the NY Times…
And don’t pass up Jonathan Alter in the NY Times Sunday Book Review on Mary Mapes’ book. It’s the producer’s account of her CBS News debacle last year over the National Guard story. Alter reminds reporters of the importance of sucking it up if they got it wrong. “The only remedy for journalists is to admit mistakes, then put our helmets back on and return to the field,” he closes.
I have to admit getting Mapes wrong myself in the blog. After her Abu Ghraib story, I couldn’t believe that she and CBS could have blown it so badly and opined that her Guard story would pan out.
One of the worst results of the CBS story was the pass the Bush campaign got on the real Guard story as a result. If you read the Alter piece (and Mapes), I also recommend following the review up… go back and read the fine reportage on the same subject by Walter Robinson in the Boston Globe last year.
Robinson and the Globe Team actually did nail down what they published about Bush’s missing time during his Guard years, but never got credit or wide readership in the wake of the CBS document disaster.
The other day I was amazed to see that torture by Iraqi internal security and religious militias was being given the ‘Casablanca’ treatment in the US press (“I’m shocked, shocked to find…”) after the indisputable discovery of a local chamber of horrors in Jadriya— full of shattered souls.
It seemed impossible that anyone paying attention could have missed the ongoing references to torture and abduction in accounts by Iraqis about all sides in the post-invasion civil strife. One would have to be willfully deaf and blind to have missed this, but even so, it took until now for the mainstream media in the US to pick up a major story on the Iraqi government’s use of Saddam’s methods of abuse.
“These torture houses have existed since the
beginning of the occupation. While it is
generally known that SCIRI is behind them,
other religious parties are not innocent. The
Americans know they exist- why the sudden
shock and outrage?…
For over a year corpses have been turning up
all over Baghdad. Corpses of people who are
taken from their homes in the middle of the
night (lately they've been more brazen- they
just do everything in the light of day), and
turn up dead somewhere. That isn't as
disturbing as the reports about the bodies- the
one I can't get out of my head is that many of
the corpses are found with holes in the skull
left by an electric drill...I guess the lucky ones
go to Abu Ghraib”
It’s time to look realistically at what’s happening in Iraq and stop pretending that there is one side supporting democracy and human rights, while another side is terroristic and Medieval. When Bush stormed in and blew apart the delicate balance between ethnic groups and religious would-be warlords in 2003, he opened the Gates of Hell. We are just now beginning to see what’s been going on all along, in all its ugliness.
Eric Schmitt’s Times piece about the bizarre House debate last night is an eye-opener. It’s encouraging to see that most Democratic members have finally had enough of the smear campaign that has too-long passed for a reason to support the Iraq adventure.
I won’t summarize here what you should read in detail, (or check out on C-Span) but John Murtha has radically changed the landscape of the debate by essentially making it impossible to question the patriotism of the antiwar position any longer.
Jean Schmidt, who is a member of Congress only since August, stepped in it badly when she accused Murtha, a veteran of two wars, of cowardice by he announcing his turnaround on Iraq this week. The reaction to her Swiftboat tactics by the Democratic membership makes this reader think maybe the party of FDR finally remembered that, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”