Friday, August 31, 2007

Congressman Jim Leach

One of the last honest Republicans no longer is an office holder.

This is the latest in my Friday series in which I try to find something positive about a Republican. It's hard work. And getting harder every day.

This week's selection, Jim Leach, no longer holds public office. But he represented the 2nd district of Iowa in the state's east central and southeast area for 30 years, from 1977 to 2007.

Here is an outline of his career:
  • Educated at Princeton University, Johns Hopkins University and the London School of Economics.
  • A foreign service officer with the Department of State; a member of the U.S. delegations to the Geneva Disarmament Conference and the United Nations General Assembly,
  • A business executive and director of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board before winning a House seat in the 1976 elections.
  • He favored abortion rights and gay rights.
  • He supports strong environmental measures.
  • He was the only House Republican to vote against the 2003 tax cut.
  • Leach was among the six House Republicans who voted, on 10-Oct-02, against authorizing the invasion of Iraq. Leach had been one of the few Republicans in Congress reluctant to support continued expansion of the US military role in Iraq.
  • After his defeat for reelection in 2006, his name floated as a potential replacement to John Bolton as Ambassador to the United Nations, with wide support from both sides of aisle. (However, Bush gave the nod to NeoCon Zalmay Khalilzad.)
  • Jim Leach is currently a visiting professor at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School.
But the real reason I am hoisting his name up to the marquee in my pages is that I suspect that he was the GOP Congressman who refused to play by Tom DeLay's and Karl Rove's rules with push-polling and like dirty tricks. I suspect he's the Republican 2006 candidate who was punished by being denied Republican resources, and lost because of it. I can't find the source, but that is my recollection.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

George Bush and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Which demagogue are you gonna believe?

Ours? A self-described 'war-time president' still pursuing his calling?

Or theirs?
They know that any action against the Iranian nation would be faced with a proper response. . . highly unlikely that the American government will take such an illogical approach . . . it would be a joke I guess.

The political power of the occupiers is collapsing rapidly. Soon, we will see a huge power vacuum in the region. Of course, we are prepared to fill the gap, with the help of neighbours and regional friends like Saudi Arabia, and with the help of the Iraqi nation.

They are trapped in the swamp of their own crimes. . . If you stay in Iraq for another 50 years nothing will improve, it will just worsen.

They rudely say prime minister Maliki and the constitution must change. Who are you? Who has given you the right?

You [America] cannot preserve your power over Iraq with a few tanks, artillery and weapons. Today, you are prisoners of your own quagmire. Today you have no choice but to accept the rights of the Iraqi people.
I know which one I'd like to believe. But, frankly, I'm stumped.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Michael Vick

Excuse me, but I found this guy's words a little refreshing.

He was speaking in Richmond, Virginia. But it felt like he was standing half the world away from the White House. I saw no notes or teleprompters. The dude just stood up, spoke up, and sat down.
For most of my life, I've been a football player, not a public speaker, so, you know, I really don't know, you know, how to say what I really want to say.

You know, I understand it's - it's important or not important, you know, as far as what you say but how you say things. So, you know, I take this opportunity just to speak from the heart.

First, I want to apologize, you know, for all the things that - that I've done and that I have allowed to happen. I want to personally apologize to commissioner Goodell, Arthur Blank, coach Bobby Petrino, my Atlanta Falcons teammates, you know, for our - for our previous discussions that we had. And I was not honest and forthright in our discussions, and, you know, I was ashamed and totally disappointed in myself to say the least.

I want to apologize to all the young kids out there for my immature acts and, you know, what I did was, what I did was very immature so that means I need to grow up.

I totally ask for forgiveness and understanding as I move forward to bettering Michael Vick the person, not the football player.

I take full responsibility for my actions. For one second will I sit right here - not for one second will I sit right here and point the finger and try to blame anybody else for my actions or what I've done.

I'm totally responsible, and those things just didn't have to happen. I feel like we all make mistakes. It's just I made a mistake in using bad judgment and making bad decisions. And you know, those things, you know, just can't happen.

Dog fighting is a terrible thing, and I did reject it.

I'm upset with myself, and, you know, through this situation I found Jesus and asked him for forgiveness and turned my life over to God. And I think that's the right thing to do as of right now.

Like I said, for this - for this entire situation I never pointed the finger at anybody else, I accepted responsibility for my actions of what I did and now I have to pay the consequences for it. But in a sense, I think it will help, you know, me as a person. I got a lot to think about in the next year or so.

I offer my deepest apologies to everybody out in there in the world who was affected by this whole situation. And if I'm more disappointed with myself than anything it's because of all the young people, young kids that I've let down, who look at Michael Vick as a role model. And to have to go through this and put myself in this situation, you know, I hope that every young kid out there in the world watching this interview right now who's been following the case will use me as an example to using better judgment and making better decisions.

Once again, I offer my deepest apologies to everyone. And I will redeem myself. I have to.

So I got a lot of down time, a lot of time to think about my actions and what I've done and how to make Michael Vick a better person.

Thank you.
I have been a great fan of dogs all my life. I have never followed football. However, I now anticipate taking an interest in a year or so.

Our Troops Can Stand Down in Iraq (and Leave)...

If , when, and only after we - as American citizens - stand up.

Today, August 28th, is National Take a Stand Day

Thousands of our fellow citizens are holding candlelight vigils and Town Hall meetings in cities all over the nation today. The purpose is to remember the human cost of the invasion and occupation of Iraq and urge our members of Congress to stand up in September and end this madness.

The first rule of demonstrations is that they never have any immediate effect. Witness the fact that this criminal invasion of Iraq launched by Bush and Cheney was the first war I know of that faced mass demonstrations around the world and throughout our nation - before it started. But demonstrations have a cumulative effect. Participation in an event might distract the MSM away from the superficialities of the day toward the central issue of our times. Besides, I'm a team player. If some one tries to pull something together to give expression to my political views, I'm going to do my best to support their effort.

So, remember: demonstrations never have any effect until they do. That's why I'm planning on participating tonight. Because I found one playing in a street theatre near me. I'm thinking others can find one, too!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Gonzales: Going, Going, Gone!

He's outta here!
It was that other Guy!

What Now?

Restore the Gonzo 8!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Zbigniew Brzezinski Has Endorsed a Democratic Candidate for President

Jimmy Carter's national security adviser and one of the most influential foreign-policy experts in the Democratic Party, Zbigniew Brzezinski, threw his support behind and endorsed one of the Democractic candidates more than four months before the first 2008 primary. He does not want Bush-lite.
Brzezinski said in an interview on Bloomberg Television's Political Capital with Al Hunt that Illinois Senator Barack Obama has a better global grasp than his chief rival, Hillary Clinton.

Obama, Zbig said,
recognizes that the challenge is a new face, a new sense of direction, a new definition of America's role in the world.

Obama is clearly more effective and has the upper hand. He has a sense of what is historically relevant, and what is needed from the United States in relationship to the world.

There is a need for a fundamental rethinking of how we conduct world affairs.And Obama seems to me to have both the guts and the intelligence to address that issue and to change the nature of America's relationship with the world.
Brzezinski discounted the assertion that Senator Clinton has an edge in experience on Obama.
Being a former first lady doesn't prepare you to be president. President Truman didn't have much experience before he came to office. Neither did John Kennedy. And I don't think the country needs to go back to what we had eight years ago.
Brzezinski also sided with Obama, who was criticized by Clinton as being ``irresponsible'' and ``naïve'' for saying he would meet in his first year as president with leaders of adversaries such as Iran and Syria.
What's the hang-up about negotiating with the Syrians or with the Iranians? What it in effect means is that you only talk to people who agree with you.
Brzezinski is 79; Clinton is 59, and Obama is 46. but if elected, Barack Obama will be older than Jack Kennedy was.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

America's next invasion is not Iran but Vietnam?

The Bush administration is not fresh out of ideas!

Perhaps because Bush was AWOL and comatose for the years during and immediately after Vietnam, Bush has been re-learning its lessons via his on-the-job-training as President while putting us all through his stumbling, blundering paces.

What are those lessons?

Rosa Brooks tells us in yesterday's LA Times:
Don't fight needless wars; don't go blundering around in countries where you don't know the language, history or culture; don't underestimate the power of nationalism, ethnicity and religion to bind together -- or tear apart -- people whose interests otherwise seem to diverge or converge; and, most of all, don't imagine that military force can solve fundamentally political problems.

But the president, who has his own very special set of history books, drew the public's attention to some entirely different lessons from Vietnam. To Bush, the "unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens."

Right! To Bush, the tragedy of the Vietnam War is that we didn't let it drag on for another decade or so.
The problem is that Vietnam revisionist historians did not start counting Vietnamese casualties until we were leaving:
Some might quibble with Bush's understanding of historical causation. Yes, many innocent civilians suffered in the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam -- but it's more accurate to attribute their suffering to the prolongation of the war itself, rather than to the U.S. withdrawal as such.

It's hard to be precise (as is the case in Iraq today, no one kept careful count of Vietnamese civilian casualties, and all sides in the conflict had an incentive to fudge the true figures), but somewhere between 1 million and 4 million civilians died as the war needlessly dragged on, many killed by U.S. weapons. Millions more were displaced.

But those are details.
Yes, and the Neo-Revisionists of the White House have done somersaults with history: The withdrawal from Vietnam emboldened our enemies! Brooks details the logic so that it's "blindingly clear" for us:
Step 1: In 1975, the Vietnam War ended and young Osama bin Laden, age 18, saw that the mighty U.S. could be brought low and that an unhappy citizenry could push a democratically elected government to end an unpopular war.

Step 2: This step is a little tougher. Al Qaeda attacked the U.S. on 9/11. Then Bin Laden, bearing the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam constantly in mind, um . . . somehow tricked us into going to war in Iraq . . . where Al Qaeda had no presence prior to the U.S. invasion . . . because he knew we'd make a mess of things . . . and that Al Qaeda could move in while we were bogged down fighting insurgents . . . and bog us down even more?

And from there, we easily reach Step 3: We are stuck in a quagmire in Iraq, just as in Vietnam! Millions of civilians are paying the price for U.S. over-reaching -- just as in Vietnam! Our credibility is suffering -- just as in Vietnam! The American public has lost faith in the war -- just as in Vietnam! Bin Laden is happy to see us brought low -- just as in Vietnam! If we leave, more bad things may happen, and Bin Laden will also be happy -- just as in Vietnam!

Step 4: Therefore, as the president explained Wednesday, we must stay in Iraq forever, until every last terrorist or every last Iraqi civilian is dead, whichever comes first.
I'm sure it's clear to everyone what Brooks thinks is step 5. Of course it's to undo the mistake we made in Vietnam!
How can we show the innocent civilians of Southeast Asia that we haven't forgotten them and simultaneously send a message of resolve to the Iraqi people? How can we show Al Qaeda once and for all that the U.S. is not to be trifled with?
We have to re-Invade Vietnam. Because no matter what they say -- it's never too late to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Friday, August 24, 2007

William "Cold Hard Cash" Jefferson

On Fridays, this space is reserved for one decent Republican.
But I can't find one!

My pay-respect-to-a-Republican-at-least-one-day-a-week pledge has been cancelled. It didn't pass the Karl Rove Test: to find a single GOP office holder who will vote to cite Turdblossum in contempt of Congress for not complying with a subpoenas from either House or Senate Judiciary Committees. Not one Republican is willing to dissociate himself from Karl Rove. Not one.

So, instead, of paying respect to a Republican, I'll just pay some disrespect to a Democrat - Democrat William Jefferson.

This guy is a standout. He graduated from Harvard Law School and was elected Louisiana's first black congressman since Reconstruction.

But he also is the dirtiest Washington elected office holder who is not a Republican. In fact he should be a Republican. Last year, Rolling Stone featured a list of The 10 Worst Congressmen (and women), and Jefferson was the only-man-jack who was not a GOP-er. Which is amazing, since there is - in this young century - such a long, long list of corrupted Republicans in and out of office and in and out of jail.

But Jefferson has to be included: anyone who gets caught with $90,000 cash in his freezer should be considered out in the cold. Rolling Stone says:
While his constituents back home were still reeling from the worst natural disaster in U.S. history, Jefferson was lining his own pockets in Washington. In May, the FBI raided his office after the Louisiana Democrat was caught accepting $100,000 in bribes -- most of which was later discovered in Jefferson's freezer. Vernon Jackson, the CEO of iGate, was sentenced to seven years for bribing Jefferson to push the tech company's products on the U.S. Army.

Democrats didn't fully abandon their most self-serving member. The party hosted a fund-raiser for Jefferson in March, long after it was clear he was under investigation. When he was busted, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi did force Jefferson to give up his seat on the Ways and Means Committee -- but then joined House Speaker Dennis Hastert in denouncing the FBI's raid on Jefferson's office as "unconstitutional."

Equally shameful were Jefferson's antics after Katrina struck: He commandeered a Coast Guard helicopter to gather personal effects from his home in New Orleans -- at a time when his constituents were literally drowning in their attics. . . .
In fairness to Jefferson, he has been indicted – not convicted. That may or may not come in the not too distant future. Either way – the guy doesn’t deserve to remain in office.
Either resign or switch parties.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Occupation 101

Welcome to Iraq: America's East Bank.

Bush's and Cheney's misbegotten invasion, launched against the advice of America's best minds and world opinion, has broken Iraq into sectarian shards. Now Bush expects to retire and leave us in Iraq - our own little Palestine with its multiple Gaza Strips. Did we ever ask ourselves, who likes to be occupied? Or, better yet - who wants to be an Occupier? (Raise your hand!)

This documentary will last approximately 90 minutes. How long can you endure watching it? A thin fraction of its length, I'm betting. As or before you click through, remember that real occupation of Iraq will be of indefinite length in the eyes of us, American state-side civilians. And that it appears to be endless in the eyes of Iraqis. Just as it has become for Palestinians.

Is it unfair or 'edgy' for me to compare our presence in Iraq with Israeli colonization of the West Bank? It makes me feel uncomfortable, but it's easy to cite consoling differences. We should remember that, according to the time line Bush has in mind for us, our stay in Iraq is only just beginning. (He has compared it in length to our deployment in Korea!) So it might be useful for us to view this documentary, so that we can get ahead of the learning curve and become aware of what's in store for us.

Is it demeaning to our courageous servicemen and women who risk their lives in Iraq (for the indefinite future) to call their mission 'an occupation'? As I have said before, I think it is the only honest description of what Bush is doing: he is demeaning the service of our armed forces by consigning them to something as common as an occupation.

What is demeaning is for Bush to have assigned to the finest and most professional fighting
force the world has ever known the degrading and ignominous role of conventional occupiers. He has sentenced our elite fight machine to the same role as the French army filled in Indo-China and Algeria, The Red Army in Afghanistan. Or, how about like our occupation of the Phillipines 1898-1946?

Because of the presumption of a divine right of do-overs for the Bush administration, we are somewhere between Plan C and Plan Z in their continuing reinvention of their 'stratergy' for Iraq. The plain fact is that as Anglo-American, Judeo-Christian invaders - ALL Iraqis call us Zionists[!] - we and our proxies have no, zero, zippo chance of winning acceptance or legitimacy in the heart of Mesapotamia. Think of snowmen in hell, because that's who we are and where we are.

Bush's 'surge' has not provided security or legitimacy to our government in the Green Zone. In the next permutation of Bush's Occupation, our occupational forces will be trimmed back to pre-surge levels. 'Sustainable' levels, we will be told, for the rest of Bush's term. Bush now blames Maliki. After he leaves office, Bush will be blaming Clinton(s) - both of them.

We Americans don't think of ourselves as occupiers.
Our nation was born by breaking out of an occupation. Bush's last great white hope, General David H. Petraeus, co-authored our current bible of occupation, FM 3-24. Only, the word 'occupation' is so odious to Americans, their title had to resort to the euphemism, "counterinsurgency". In concluding his review of FM 3-24, Edward Luttwak wrote that the:
ambivalence of a United States . . . that is willing to fight wars, that is willing to start wars because of future threats, that is willing to conquer territory or even entire countries, and yet is unwilling to govern what it conquers, even for a few years. Consequently, for all of the real talent manifested in the writing of FM 3-24 DRAFT, its prescriptions are in the end of little or no use and amount to a kind of malpractice. All its best methods, all its clever tactics, all the treasure and the blood that the United States has been willing to expend, cannot overcome the crippling ambivalence of occupiers who refuse to govern, and their principled and inevitable refusal to out-terrorize the insurgents, the necessary and sufficient condition of a tranquil occupation.
Against the American grain, then, Bush and Cheney's last great hope to escape infamy is to extend their occupation of Iraq indefinitely or morph it further into a war with Iran.

The last great hope of the American people may be to Demand a Fully-Funded Safe Withdrawal from Iraq, a position taken by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Maxine Waters (D-CA), and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) in their July Open Letter to Bush in which they say,
We will only support appropriating funds for U.S. military operations in Iraq during Fiscal Year 2008 and beyond for the protection and safe redeployment of all our troops out of Iraq before you leave office.
At long last: a Congressional demand that Bush and Cheney finish eating their plates of occupation before they are excused from the table.

Have you finished that clip on Occupation 101, yet?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Barack Obama: A New Cuba Policy!

Guts + Vision + Eloquence = Leadership!
I just gotta like this guy. The return of Kennedy tradition in Democratic Party, without the family estate and compound. Here is his Op-Ed in the Miami Herald:
When my father was a young man living in Kenya, the freedom and opportunity of the United States exerted such a powerful draw that he moved halfway around the world to pursue his dreams here. My father's story is not unique. The same has been true for tens of millions of people, from every continent -- including for the many Cubans who have come and made their lives here since the start of Fidel Castro's dictatorship almost 50 years ago.

It is a tragedy that, just 90 miles from our shores, there exists a society where such freedom and opportunity are kept out of reach by a government that clings to discredited ideology and authoritarian control. A democratic opening in Cuba is, and should be, the foremost objective of our policy. We need a clear strategy to achieve it -- one that takes some limited steps now to spread the message of freedom on the island, but preserves our ability to bargain on behalf of democracy with a post-Fidel government.

The primary means we have of encouraging positive change in Cuba today is to help the Cuban people become less dependent on the Castro regime in fundamental ways. U.S. policy must be built around empowering the Cuban people, who ultimately hold the destiny of Cuba in their hands. The United States has a critical interest in seeing Cuba join the roster of stable and economically vibrant democracies in the Western Hemisphere. Such a development would bring us important security and economic benefits, and it would allow for new cooperation on migration, counter-narcotics and other issues.

Advance Political Reform

These interests, and our support for the aspirations of the Cuban people, are ill served by the further entrenchment of the Castro regime, which is why we need to advance peaceful political and economic reform on the island. Castro's ill health and the potentially tumultuous changes looming ahead make the matter all the more urgent.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration has made grand gestures to that end while strategically blundering when it comes to actually advancing the cause of freedom and democracy in Cuba. This is particularly true of the administration's decision to restrict the ability of Cuban Americans to visit and send money to their relatives in Cuba. This is both a humanitarian and a strategic issue. That decision has not only had a profoundly negative impact on the welfare of the Cuban people. It has also made them more dependent on the Castro regime and isolated them from the transformative message carried there by Cuban Americans.

In the ''Cuban spring'' of the late 1990s and early years of this decade, dissidents and human-rights activists had more political space than at any time since the beginning of Castro's rule, and Cuban society experienced a small opening in advancing the cause of freedom for the Cuban people.

U.S. policies -- especially the fact that Cuban Americans were allowed to maintain and deepen ties with family on the island -- were a key cause of that ''Cuban spring.'' Although cut off by the Castro regime's deplorable March 2003 jailing of 75 of Cuba's most prominent and courageous dissidents, the opening underscored what is possible with a sensible strategic approach.

We in the United States should do what we can to bring about another such opening, taking certain steps now-and pledging to take additional steps as temporary openings are solidified into lasting change.

Cuban-American connections to family in Cuba are not only a basic right in humanitarian terms, but also our best tool for helping to foster the beginnings of grass-roots democracy on the island. Accordingly, I will grant Cuban Americans unrestricted rights to visit family and send remittances to the island.

But as we reach out in some ways now, it makes strategic sense to hold on to important inducements we can use in dealing with a post-Fidel government, for it is an unfortunate fact that his departure by no means guarantees the arrival of freedom on the island.

Bilateral Talks

Accordingly, I will use aggressive and principled diplomacy to send an important message: If a post-Fidel government begins opening Cuba to democratic change, the United States (the president working with Congress) is prepared to take steps to normalize relations and ease the embargo that has governed relations between our countries for the last five decades. That message coming from my administration in bilateral talks would be the best means of promoting Cuban freedom. To refuse to do so would substitute posturing for serious policy -- and we have seen too much of that in other areas over the past six years.

We must not lose sight of our fundamental goal: freedom in Cuba. At the same time, we should be pragmatic in our approach and clear-sighted about the effects of our policies. We all know the power of the freedom and opportunity that America at its best has both embodied and advanced. If deployed wisely, those ideals will have as transformative effect on Cubans today as they did on my father more than 50 years ago.
I cannot explain why, but when I listen to Senator Barak Obama, I hear the voice of Robert F. Kennedy. If not his words.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

In Iraq (I-Wreck), It's the Occupation, Stupid!

And Not a War!
Throughout these pages, I have long and relentlessly argued that Bush's opponents do themselves a tremendous disservice by buying into the lexicon of his Warparty that we must 'win' the 'war in Iraq'. Some of my readers have dissented and taken great umbrage, saying that my insistence on the word "occupation" is demeaning to the heroic service rendered by the brave men and women in our Armed Services. My response has been, and is, that it's not my calling Bush's occupation of Iraq for what it is which is demeaning. It's the mission which the Chickenhawk-in-Chief has assigned our troops that is demeaning.

Here, from today's New York Times, we can hear directly from the troops about the conditions on the ground in Iraq. In the report which Bush is writing for General Petreus, you will see the word 'war' many times. But, in the following piece written by Army Specialist Buddhika Jayamaha, Sergeant Wesley D. Smith, Sergeant Jeremy Roebuck, Sergeant Omar Mora, Sergeant Edward Sandmeier, Staff Sergeant Yance T. Gray and Staff Sergeant Jeremy A. Murphy only the word "occupation" is used:
. . . . the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched.

As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day.

The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere. What soldiers call the “battle space” remains the same, with changes only at the margins. It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army,

Reports that a majority of Iraqi Army commanders are now reliable partners can be considered only misleading rhetoric. The truth is that battalion commanders, even if well meaning, have little to no influence over the thousands of obstinate men under them, in an incoherent chain of command, who are really loyal only to their militias.
We are arming tribally-based Sunni militias to serve as anti-al Qaeda proxies, but
the enduring question is where their loyalties would lie in our absence. The Iraqi government finds itself working at cross purposes with us on this issue because it is justifiably fearful that Sunni militias will turn on it should the Americans leave.

In short, we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear. . . . While we have the will and the resources to fight in this context, we are effectively hamstrung because realities on the ground require measures we will always refuse — namely, the widespread use of lethal and brutal force.

Given the situation, it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.

. . . . The Iraqi government is run by the main coalition partners of the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, with Kurds as minority members. The Shiite clerical establishment formed the alliance to make sure its people did not succumb to the same mistake as in 1920: rebelling against the occupying Western force (then the British) and losing what they believed was their inherent right to rule Iraq as the majority. The qualified and reluctant welcome we received from the Shiites since the invasion has to be seen in that historical context. They saw in us something useful for the moment.

Now that moment is passing, as the Shiites have achieved what they believe is rightfully theirs. Their next task is to figure out how best to consolidate the gains, because reconciliation without consolidation risks losing it all. . . .

Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers. The choice we have left is to decide which side we will take. Trying to please every party in the conflict — as we do now — will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run.

At the same time, the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. “Lucky” Iraqis live in gated communities barricaded with concrete blast walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal.

. . . . In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal.

Until that happens, it would be prudent for us to increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities. . . .
Iraqis are clearly pre-occupied with our occupation. We Americans should be, too.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Iraq-Nam Fantasy: Could Condoleezza Rice give Henry Kissinger's "Decent Interval" a Reprise?

Is a 30-year lapse too long to recall how our intervention in Vietnam's civil war was finally ended, long after our leaders realized their goals could not be accomplished?

An inspection of Vietnam-era secret documents, now declassified, make for revealing reading. Especially so, when we re-read the transcripts of what then-National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger told Chinese premier Zhou Enlai in the course of a four-hour meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing On June 20, 1972.
Before I present the transcript, let me revise and update it to make it relevant for Iraq-Nam. I know it's a reach, but let's assume Condoleezza Rice were to deliver the same substance in a tête-à-tête with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:
So we should find a way to end the war occupation, to stop it from being an international situation, and then permit a situation to develop in which the future of Indochina Iraq can be returned to the Indochinese Iraqi people. And I can assure you that this is the only object we have in Indochina Iraq, and I do not believe this can be so different from yours. We want nothing for ourselves there. And while we cannot bring a communist Shiite government to power, if as a result of historical evolution it should happen over a period of time, if we can live with a communist Shiite government in China Iran, we ought to be able to accept it in Indochina Iraq.
A month and a half later (August 3, 1972), Kissinger explained to president Richard Nixon (only, in the case of my fantasy, Rice would be telling Bush):
We will agree to a historical process or a political process in which the real forces in Vietnam Iraq will assert themselves, whatever these forces are. We've got to find some formula that holds the thing together a year or two, after which - after a year, Mr President, Vietnam Iraq will be a backwater. If we settle it, say, this October, by January '74 08, no one will give a damn.
The "strategy" - if you want to call it that - was summarized here by Kissinger had been conceived at least a year earlier. As noted in the Indochina section of the briefing book for Kissinger's July 1971 China trip (again with updated editing):
On behalf of President Nixon Bush, I want to assure prime minister Zhou president Ahmadinejad solemnly that the United States is prepared to make a settlement that will truly leave the political evolution of South Vietnam Iraq to the Vietnamese Iraqis alone. We are ready to withdraw all of our forces by a fixed date and let objective realities shape the political future.

... We want a decent interval. You have our assurance.
And a marginal notation in Kissinger's Rice's hand:
If the Vietnamese Iraqi people themselves decide to change the present government, we shall accept it. But we will not make that decision for them.
I am waking from my Saturday morning fantasy with a more sober reverie that whenever and however Bush's catastrophic blunder in Iraq is ended, his Neoconservative descendants will employ der Dolchstosslegende, and blame it all on the Clintons.

Both of them.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Senator Gordon Smith

Republican Friday #3: Another in my weekly series which attempts to establish that some Republicans retain socially redeeming qualities.

Oregon Senator Gordon Smith is running for re-election in 2008. Perhaps because of the views of his constituency, he has apologized for his vote in 2002 authorizing George Bush to invade Iraq.

On 11-Jul-07, Senator Smith became the lead Republican co-sponsor behind the Levin amendment in the Senate that would put U.S. troops on a glide path out of Iraq, allowing for greater focus on combating terrorists.
We need to be fighting terrorists not civil wars. Iraq’s peace is one they must win on their own; we cannot win it for them. Our might should be focused on stopping terrorists who are plotting to bring harm to the United States. . . .

Underpinning the current course and the argument of many of my colleagues on this side of the aisle is the hope, the predicate, that at the end of the road there will be an Iraqi government that will govern effectively and democratically. I believe President Bush's formulation, that we will stand down when they can stand up, is backwards. I come to that conclusion, based on numerous trips to Iraq, that they will not stand up until we begin standing down.
Senator Smith recently toured Iraq with Senator McCain, but he certainly came away with different views:
What I have learned firsthand is that Americans have no comprehension of the complexity, the factionalism, and the intensity of hatred that exists in some parts of the Middle East. On top of the factionalism, there are ancient sectarian strifes which produced a low-grade civil war that we cannot win, and which is not ours to win. It is theirs to win.

. . . . My fear is that what our presence and current posture are doing is simply keeping a civil war at a low-grade level. Civil wars end in one of two ways: one side wins and the other loses, or they fight it out until they figure it out. My fear is that we delay the day for them figuring it out with our current posture.

. . . . We cannot want democracy more for them than they want it for themselves, and what they seem bent on is an ethnic cleansing of their neighborhoods, a religious division. Ultimately, those are their decisions, not ours. But as long as we say we will take the bullet first, they will let us.
14 months early, I am projecting Gordon Smith's reelection in 2008.

Erratum Maximus!
I have been in error!

Because of comments by readers (see below), I rescind any positive comments above!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Wars Within Wars in Iraq

In today's L.A. Times, Richard Engel says to forget Bush's simplistic dogma of a struggle for democracy against terrorism.
The perception portrayed by the White House and the Iraqi government in Baghdad -- and all too often reflected, I'm sorry to say, in the news media -- is that the violence in Iraq is the result of a straightforward struggle between two opposing teams: the Freedom Lovers and the Freedom Haters.
What the President wants us to believe is that conflict in Iraq is a Manichean struggle between two sides:
  1. The Freedom Lovers: The 12 million Iraqis who plunged their fingers into purple ink on election day in December 2005, choosing freedom, moderation and democracy. Their team captains are the Iraqi government, the White House, the U.S.-trained Iraq security services and the roughly 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

  2. The Freedom Haters: Iraqi radicals, foreign jihadists, former Baath Party members and criminals supported by Al Qaeda, Syria and Iran who have formed an alliance of convenience to reject the democratization of Iraq. This team's captains are Al Qaeda in Iraq, Iranian and Syrian agents and, sometimes, radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr's Al Mahdi militia.
In fact, there are many groups in Iraq fighting for many different reasons and hoping to achieve many different goals. The vast majority of them don't believe that they are fighting for or against democracy. Engle provides his readers with "program notes" delineating the teams in this mosaic of civil wars:
  • Many Sunni groups in Iraq are also fighting a war that seems to have little in common with the official U.S. and Iraqi characterizations. Al Qaeda in Iraq and its allies now fight under an umbrella group they call the Islamic State of Iraq. In April, the group issued an Internet statement saying it is fighting a "Zionist-Persian" conspiracy to rule Iraq. From what they wrote, they seem to believe that they are fighting an attempt to take over their country by Israel and Iran -- not against a U.S. mission to bring democracy to Iraq.

  • Muqtada Sadr: The radical Shiite leader and commander of the Al Mahdi militia wants to surpass the influence of his father, one of Iraq's most revered Shiite leaders. Sadr has tapped into the frustrations of Iraq's poor, uneducated and unemployed Shiite community, which is increasingly fed up with the continued presence of U.S. troops. He wants to turn his army of bandits into Iraq's version of Lebanon's Hezbollah.

  • The Kurds: Iraqi Kurds want independence in northern Iraq and control of the oil rich city of Kirkuk. They want to capitalize on their new freedom by establishing what they have been denied for centuries, an autonomous, prosperous oil-rich state.

  • Abdelaziz Hakim: The infirm leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (now known as the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council) wants to control southern Iraq and carve out a ministate allied with Iran. His party would rule this emirate, containing both the rich oil fields in Basra and access to the Persian Gulf.

  • Iyad Allawi: The former prime minister, ex-Baath Party member and Western intelligence asset wants to return to power, overthrow Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and unite Sunnis and Shiites under his secular rule. He wants to be Iraq's pro-American strongman.

  • Nouri Maliki: His goals are unclear. At times he sounds as though he is reading talking points from the White House, but he also is beholden to Sadr. Maliki recently told me that he and Sadr are "from the same school" and that he does not see Sadr as a threat to Iraq. The U.S. military, which is keeping Maliki in power, does not see Sadr the same way.
When Americans eventually escape the boxed-in thinking of the Administration, they will see that however-so-long we are fighting in Iraq, we are not fighting until Iraqi forces 'can stand up'.
The problem is Iraqis are already fighting for their country, and fighting savagely. They are just not fighting the war of the Freedom Haters versus the Freedom Lovers that many in the U.S. administration would apparently like them to be fighting.

What a difference 9-11 Meant!

In 1994, invading Iraq was not rationally in the national interests of the United States!
But after we were attacked in September 2001, it was okay for Shooter to lose his head, drink the Kool-Aid of preventive war concocted by NeoConservatives, and to randomly choose an Arab country to shock and awe.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

David Halberstam & Charles Ferguson

What do these two have in common?

They both have authoritatively described America's descent into two catastrophic foreign policy disasters.

In his definitive book The Best and Brightest, David Halberstam chronicled how John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon allowed our country to become mired in a 9-years quagmire which cost us 50,000 KIA.
In his new documentary, The Worst and the Stupidest, No End In Sight, Charles Ferguson takes a detailed look at our current Iraquagmire. Ferguson toured Iraq with his own security detail, picked the brains of other first-rate reporters and academics and interviewed an array of President Bush appointees who tried and failed to shape Iraq policy, such as Richard Armitage, ex-Deputy Secretary of State, and Robert Hutchings, The principals in this tragedy - Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Rice - wouldn't talk to him. Bush is a relatively minor player in the story which is steeped not merely in bungling, but arrogance and incompetence on a grand scale.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Regularly Scheduled Commemorative Friday (for the G.O.P.) Was Almost Canceled

I almost discontinued my once-a-week series to celebrate the residues of the once-great Republican Party .

This was because of the unanimous Republican support in the Senate and the House of Representatives for Bush's so-called The Protect America Act. Only one conclusion is possible. What passes for the old Republican Party is nothing other than detritus and roadkill marking the path of the Wehrmacht which they have so imprudently installed and slavishly supported in the White House. Except . . .

Except for the fact that the Republican vote for the shredding of our Constitution was not unanimous. Two Congressmen stood up against shredding our American Constitution. They were Reps

Timothy V. Johnson of Illinois and Walter Jones of North Carolina

Walter Jones once was a Democrat, and switched after 1994. Early a supporter of Bush's invasion of Iraq, he initiated the Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast idea. Could he switch back again? He is right on Iraq, right on trade, and right on FISA.

If only more Republicans could think for themselves like Johnson and Jones, America would be better off.

That's all I have to say in behalf of Republicans this week. The way I figure it, 22% of the Democrats in Congress may have voted in favor of shredding the Constitution, but 99% of the Groveling and Obsequious Publicans followed their dear decider's direction.

'Nuff said.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

British Forces in Basra Are in Withdrawal Mode

It's not going to be exactly like Dien Bien Phu, nor even Custer's Last Stand, but. . .

The British garrison at Basra Palace, described by a Labour MP recently there as a "force surrounded like cowboys and Indians", will strike camp and hand it over to the Iraqis. That would leave 5,000 British troops in a single base, at the airport on the western outskirts of the city.

The British Ministry of Defence (MoD) is cagey
about exactly how many military vehicles they have in the area requiring withdrawal. Some calculate there to be about 30 Challenger 2 battle tanks, about 90 Warrior armored vehicles and scores of other armored vehicles, including ageing Land Rovers, and new Mastiffs and Bulldogs which provide better protection for British troops.

The army suggests they will be driven out of Iraq to Kuwait in convoys, though they made it clear they had not given the issue much thought. Of course, it would be easier for Britain's squadrons of Sea King, Merlin and Lynx helicopters, and Hercules transport planes to fly off.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the chief of defense staff, echoed the frustration in a recent interview with the BBC. Basra had been a success, he said, though that depended on "what your interpretation of the mission was in the first place". The mission was to "get the place and the people to a state where Iraqis could run this part of the country" he said, adding pointedly, "if they chose to".

It's clear that they are already running the show. The newspaper quoted from one think tank report that said the legacy of British rule in Basra was:
the systematic misuse of official institutions, political assassinations, tribal vendettas, neighborhood vigilantism and enforcement of social mores, together with the rise of criminal mafias.
An intelligence official told the Washington Post:
The British have basically been defeated in the south. 500 British troops based at Basra Palace were surrounded like cowboys and Indians.
British troops told Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs who visited Basra recently that they were only there "because of our relations with the US" and because of "American domestic sensibilities". That kind of talk is not healthy and defense ministers know it. An ex-British defense official, now based in Baghdad, told the newspaper that America had criticized London's push to withdraw at the "highest levels." America,
has been very concerned for some time now about (a) the lawless situation in Basra and (b) the political and military impact of the British pullback.
There is evidence from recent attacks that insurgents - Iran-backed militia, rogue militia elements and criminal gangs, the MoD calls them - have changed their tactics by firing rockets and mortars at the base in attacks which have already killed British soldiers there. Charles Heyman, a former army officer and author of The Armed Forces of the UK, warned yesterday they could be "sitting ducks". Currently, British troops are the targets of 90% of attacks in Basra.

Basra governor general Mohammad al-Wa'eli is ready to accept the turnover. He says,
Basra province is one of the most important provinces which plays a major role in Iraq's economical structure, therefore the Iraqi government has done a lot of work to take over the security dossier. Iraqi prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki has issued an order for establishing an operation center in Basra to prepare the security forces for taking control of the province and starting the reconstruction plan.

In fact, the Iraqi government attaches great importance to transferring of security dossier and compiling of a strategic plan for the establishment of security in Basra. After the security is taken over from British troops, the mechanism by which security in Basra is established will be totally different from the current mechanism and right decisions will be made in this regard.
The idea is that the troops held up around Basra airport will be on what ministers call "overwatch" - they will be there to help Iraqi forces in a crisis, and continue to train them. Yet MoD officials say 5,000 is barely enough for the task. Military commentators say the force would soon become demoralized and besieged.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Presidential Forum at the Yearly Kos

High Sensibility T.V. For Everyone!

On the wonderful Star-Spangled Haggis blog, I recently (inadvertently) dissed webhostess E's tastes in low-relevance TV by mentioning that I watch only "High-Sensibility TV". When challenged about that, I found it (HSTV) on the internet, and I was gratified to see that it's accessible to everyone with wide-band Internet access. I'll link it here.This is a discussion among some self-selected 2008 Democratic presidential candidates who appeared at the recent Yearly Kos convention in Chicago. In inviting any of my readers to take valuable minutes out of their surfing, I caution them to skip a third of the way through the introduction of the moderator, Mat Bai. Bai is a favorite writer of mine and I think he performs a superlative job of moderating these raucous and spirited Democrats.

Of them Dem's, let me opine that all of the hard core were in attendance except for Joe Biden. Not that neither of the sitting white male senators are credible 2008 candidates, but I will further opine that I would happily suffer 100 Joe Bidens to one Chris Dodd; the latter is a hopelessly unimaginative bore who speaks only of cliches and platitudes, but the former is a responsive speaker who addresses specifics with a colorful attitude and eloquence.

Except for the poorly-cast Senator from Connecticut, all of the candidates appeared friendly, likeable and (hooray!) competent. I was not surprised when two on the dais emerged from the 'debate' as my favorites.

I also have to say, I enjoyed the interactive atmosphere in this Yearly Kos Presidential Forum. Some statements from these candidates I found to be sensational, superficial, and insubstantial. But I am not looking for elaborate platforms and policy specifics. When I am watching a candidate debate, discussion or forum, what I am really after is making a judgment on the person. I want to determine the experience, intelligence, confidence and courage of candidates. These words are not always subjective:
  • Experience: what, objectively, has a candidate done or said, on the record at critical points in his/her career or in the nation's history?
  • Intelligence: how well does a candidate respond creatively, cleverly, imaginatively and reasonably to an unrehearsed and unscripted prompt from moderator, questioner or adversary?
  • Courage and Confidence: How readily does a candidate appear to risk a politically incorrect malapropism or faux pas?
These criterion are what separates the JFK’s, RFK’s, and the Al Gore’s from the Nixon’s and the Bush’s. Everything else is the distracting static, chaff and flack of American politics.

At this point, I am confident I have found my RFK for 2008.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are the Great Under-Estimators

It is midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil Iraq but our long national nightmare has barely begun.

The surge in US troop numbers was designed to provide a breathing space to pursue reconciliation. This was opportunity for the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to win a vote of no confidence from its patrons in Washington.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has said he is disappointed by the lack of political progress in Iraq. The immediate cause of Gate's disappointment were recent discouraging developments, especially the withdrawal of the main Sunni Arab bloc from the government of the Green Zone.
In some ways we probably all underestimated the depth of the mistrust and how difficult it would be for these guys to come together on legislation. The kinds of legislation they're talking about will establish the framework of Iraq for the future so it's almost like our constitutional convention... And the difficulty in coming to grips with those, we may all have underestimated six or eight months ago.
No. Not even close. Gates is covering for Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld.
  • They all underestimated the resentment of the Iraqi people for being invaded without provocation after they had been bombed and embargoed for ten years (for provocation).
  • They all underestimated the gratitude rage Iraqis would feel when their command and control infrastructure was deconstructed with our smart bombs Shock and Awe.
  • They all underestimated the fear of the Iraqis that the plunder of their oil reserves was the objective of their invaders.
  • They all underestimated the cultural, political, and historical complexities of Iraqi society.
  • They all underestimated the number of troops it would take to shove democracy down the throats of a people who had never had the urge to swallow such a delicacy.
In short, Bush and Cheney themselves, along with the cowboys they rode in with, are the great under-estimators. They are building for the American people in Iraq a bridge back to the 20th century to nowhere. We are to think that Bush and Cheney, as neo-colonial occupiers of Iraq, have no confidence in Malicki? More to the point: it is the American people, after having stupidly and unaccountably elected (twice!) this imperial executive, who now feel themselves an occupied people with no confidence in their Decider.

Do my docile fellow Americans now consign themselves to being passive passengers in a runaway bus? Do they think salavation is just around the corner in a year or so when the hijackers run out of gas?

No. Again, not even close. The residues of our nightmare will last decades. This eight-year episode will turn out to be expensive enough. We should get a start on dispelling our our demons and their fantasies now.

When It Comes to Earmarks, Flakes Are a Good Thing!

Republican Friday #2: Another in my series which attempts to establish that some Republicans retain socially redeeming qualities.

According to Tax-Payers for Common Sense there are only two Congressmen who do not request earmarks in appropriations bills. They are Jeff Flake and John B. Shadegg, both Republicans from Arizona.

Obviously we can speculate if it is just a coincidence that they represent constituencies from the home state of Barry Goldwater, an authentic, old-school, conservative.

In order to high-light the earmarking process I rely heavily on the Sunlight Foundation:

What is an earmark?

An earmark is a line-item that is inserted into a bill to direct funds to a specific project or recipient without any public hearing or review. Members of Congress—both in the House and the Senate—use earmarks to direct funds to projects of their choice. Typically earmarks fund projects in the district of the House member or the state of the Senator who inserted it; the beneficiary of the funds can be a state or local agency or a private entity; often, the ultimate beneficiary is a political supporter of the legislator. Earmarks are the principal means by which Members of Congress “bring home the bacon.”

What’s wrong with earmarks?

In the ear-marking process there is no transparency or accountability in the system. Members can secure hundreds of millions of dollars of funding for a project without subjecting it to debate by their colleagues in the Congress, or to the scrutiny and oversight of the public. Because earmarks are hard to identify, some members use them to secretly award their biggest campaign contributors. The secrecy of the earmarking process invites backroom deals and unethical—or even corrupt—behavior, part of a pay-to-play culture where lobbyists and contractors and well-connected individuals give campaign contributions to legislators in return for federal funding.

Where do you find a list of earmarks?

Earmarks are not published in any one place. They are inserted anonymously as line items in appropriations and other bills, or appear, sometimes as lists, sometimes embedded in text, in the House, Senate or Conference Committee reports that accompany legislation.

How can I find out who inserted an earmark?

Authors of earmarks are generally anonymous; under current congressional rules, there is no requirement that a member identify his or her earmarks. Some Representatives and Senator publicize the earmarks that they secure by issuing press releases; many others refuse to discuss them. One way of telling who secured an earmark is to look at the name of the entity receiving the money. Many bridges, university buildings, and technology centers have been named after the appropriators who secured the federal funding for the project.

Who secures the most earmarks?

Generally the more powerful members of Congress get more earmarks. The surest way to become a leader in earmarking is to sit on the Appropriations Committees in the House and Senate. Members of these committees, and especially the chairs of their subcommittees, are in the best position to secure earmarks.

Like Senator Ted Stevens from Alaska, for example.

They can insert them into spending bills during closed committee meetings, with no public scrutiny. Earmarks are also offered to members to entice them to vote for a bill they otherwise would not vote for. Sen. Tom Coburn calls earmarks the “trading currency” of Congress.

How are earmarks requested?

Members of Congress request that earmarks be placed in particular bills. The language used is often written by lobbyists who have been hired to obtain the federal funding for a project from a particular legislator. Some members of Congress offer online “Appropriations Request Forms” where an earmark-seeker can send their request for funds directly to the member’s office. But for most this is still a highly secretive process.

What is a conference committee?

Before a bill becomes a law, both the House and the Senate must pass a single, identical version of the bill. (Often times, in the legislative process, the two chambers pass bills that have slightly different language, or differing amendments.) A conference committee, made up of lawmakers selected from both the House and the Senate, reconcile differences and agree on the final language of a bill. The conferees tend to include the chairman and ranking members of the committee from which the bill emerged along with other selected members.

How are conference committees involved in the earmarking process?

Earmarks are often slipped into conference committee reports after the differing bills have passed one of the two legislative chambers. This is an even more secretive course of action than the insertion of earmarks during the regular committee process. Because the conference version of a bill cannot be challenged by amendment on the floor, the inclusion of an earmark at this stage usually guarantees its passage with no debate and little publicity or oversight.

Do members of Congress like earmarks?

Of course members like earmarks! One of the keys to pleasing constituents, and maintaining incumbency, is to prove how much federal money you can bring home to your district. Just look at the press releases on a member’s web site. They are proud of the money that they have secured. In recent reelection races Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, both touted their ability to bring home federal dollars. Legislators in tight races are helped enormously by earmarks as they can tout their ability to provide for their district.

What purpose do earmarks serve?

Earmarks serve many purposes. They provide a way for members of Congress to secure funds for important projects that they may have better knowledge about than others from outside of their district. They can also help a member bring jobs to their district. Earmarks also help members get reelected. By securing funding for a project that brings new jobs to a depressed community or for much needed infrastructure repairs, a legislator can show what they can do for their community. Members of Congress also can receive campaign contributions from those seeking an earmark, or from the lobbying firm hired to secure the funds.

How many earmarks are there in a given year?

The number of earmarks has been on the rise for a decade. In 1996 there were only 3,055 earmarks. In 2004 there were 14,211 of them, costing some $52.69 billion dollars. H.R. 5647, the “Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations” bill, contains a total of 1,700 earmarks inserted just by House members; that number will surely increase when the Senate begins considering it.

Why has earmarking grown so much over the past decade?

Earmarking began to grow after 1996, two years after the Republican takeover of Congress. The new majority used earmarks as a means of protecting vulnerable incumbents by showing their ability to secure funds for local projects. This growth in earmarks created its own industry among lobbyists in Washington who specialize in securing the special provisions for local interests (schools, universities, recreation centers, municipalities, cities, etc…) and for private companies, including defense and other government contractors.

A shining example of the excess and abuses of the earmarking process is H.R. 5647, the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. Just last year the Labor-HHS Appropriations bill carried no earmarks. This year’s version contains over 1,700 earmarked projects totaling nearly $1 billion.

Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has distinguished himself by launching a crusade against earmarks, especially against those authored by members of his own GOP. On June 20, 2006, he even attempted to strip an earmark inserted by House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) which is set to provide $2.5 million for the Illinois Technology Transistion Center. Flake also criticized an earmark of Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) which set aside $250,000 for a public swimming pool in Benning, California. On July 8, 2006, Flake attempted to strip a $250,000 appropriation for the Science Museum of Virginia. He stated,
I would note that the museum will soon open a traveling exhibit on candy, sponsored by the Jelly Belly Candy Co...It does not sound like much research to me.
Unfortunately, each of Flake’s attempts failed. More unfortunately, still, is that there are not more FLAKES in Congress. Earmarks prosper as Congress' dirty little secrets.