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Monday, July 21, 2008

Please wait, your request is processed... Iraqi Prime Minister Backs Obama Troop Exit Plan

A spokesman for al-Maliki has said the Prime Minister's comments were "mistranslated", but Der Spiegel is standing by its story:

Maliki was quick to back away from an outright endorsement of Obama, saying "who they choose as their president is the Americans' business." But he then went on to say: "But it's the business of Iraqis to say what they want. And that's where the people and the government are in general agreement: The tenure of the coalition troops in Iraq should be limited."


A Baghdad government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, said in a statement that SPIEGEL had "misunderstood and mistranslated" the Iraqi prime minister, but didn't point to where the misunderstanding or mistranslation might have occurred. Al-Dabbagh said Maliki's comments "should not be understood as support to any US presidential candidates." The statement was sent out by the press desk of the US-led Multinational Force in Iraq.

A number of media outlets likewise professed to being confused by the statement from Maliki's office. The New York Times pointed out that al-Dabbagh's statement "did not address a specific error." CBS likewise expressed disbelief pointing out that Maliki mentions a timeframe for withdrawal three times in the interview and then asks, "how likely is it that SPIEGEL mistranslated three separate comments? Matthew Yglesias, a blogger for the Atlantic Monthly, was astonished by "how little effort was made" to make the Baghdad denial convincing. And the influential blog IraqSlogger also pointed out the lack of specifics in the government statement.

SPIEGEL sticks to its version of the conversation.

The New York Times reports that US Embassy Officials contacted Maliki's office to "explain" how the Prime Minister's comments were being interpreted:

The interview prompted immediate concern from the Bush administration, which called to seek clarification from Mr. Maliki's office, American officials said.


Scott M. Stanzel, a White House spokesman with President Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., said that embassy officials explained to the Iraqis how the interview in Der Spiegel was being interpreted, given that it came just a day after the two governments announced an agreement over American troops.

"The Iraqis were not aware and wanted to correct it," he said.

The Washington Post confirms that the tepid retraction came after a call from Embassy officials:

The statement by an aide to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki calling his remarks in Der Spiegel "misinterpreted and mistranslated" followed a call to the prime minister's office from U.S. government officials in Iraq.
Original here

Please wait, your request is processed... Iraqi Prime Minister Backs Obama Troop Exit Plan

A spokesman for al-Maliki has said the Prime Minister's comments were "mistranslated", but Der Spiegel is standing by its story:

Maliki was quick to back away from an outright endorsement of Obama, saying "who they choose as their president is the Americans' business." But he then went on to say: "But it's the business of Iraqis to say what they want. And that's where the people and the government are in general agreement: The tenure of the coalition troops in Iraq should be limited."


A Baghdad government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, said in a statement that SPIEGEL had "misunderstood and mistranslated" the Iraqi prime minister, but didn't point to where the misunderstanding or mistranslation might have occurred. Al-Dabbagh said Maliki's comments "should not be understood as support to any US presidential candidates." The statement was sent out by the press desk of the US-led Multinational Force in Iraq.

A number of media outlets likewise professed to being confused by the statement from Maliki's office. The New York Times pointed out that al-Dabbagh's statement "did not address a specific error." CBS likewise expressed disbelief pointing out that Maliki mentions a timeframe for withdrawal three times in the interview and then asks, "how likely is it that SPIEGEL mistranslated three separate comments? Matthew Yglesias, a blogger for the Atlantic Monthly, was astonished by "how little effort was made" to make the Baghdad denial convincing. And the influential blog IraqSlogger also pointed out the lack of specifics in the government statement.

SPIEGEL sticks to its version of the conversation.

The New York Times reports that US Embassy Officials contacted Maliki's office to "explain" how the Prime Minister's comments were being interpreted:

The interview prompted immediate concern from the Bush administration, which called to seek clarification from Mr. Maliki's office, American officials said.


Scott M. Stanzel, a White House spokesman with President Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., said that embassy officials explained to the Iraqis how the interview in Der Spiegel was being interpreted, given that it came just a day after the two governments announced an agreement over American troops.

"The Iraqis were not aware and wanted to correct it," he said.

The Washington Post confirms that the tepid retraction came after a call from Embassy officials:

The statement by an aide to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki calling his remarks in Der Spiegel "misinterpreted and mistranslated" followed a call to the prime minister's office from U.S. government officials in Iraq.
Original here

MAJOR UPDATE: NY Times confirms Maliki's comments (and, thus, the fact that CentCom lied)!

But the interpreter for the interview works for Mr. Maliki’s office, not the magazine. And in an audio recording of Mr. Maliki’s interview that Der Spiegel provided to The New York Times, Mr. Maliki seemed to state a clear affinity for Mr. Obama’s position, bringing it up on his own in an answer to a general question on troop presence.

The following is a direct translation from the Arabic of Mr. Maliki’s comments by The Times: "Obama’s remarks that — if he takes office — in 16 months he would withdraw the forces, we think that this period could increase or decrease a little, but that it could be suitable to end the presence of the forces in Iraq."

He continued: "Who wants to exit in a quicker way has a better assessment of the situation in Iraq."

Just as we thought. The best part: the interpreter that "misinterpreted" is Maliki's guy! I mean, the White House couldn't look like bigger liars if they tried!

Rest of diary follows after the jump...

Woo hoo, this is rich:

Along those lines, Dr. Ali al-Dabbagh, who the Times calls a spokesman for the Iraqi government, has released a statement saying that Prime Minister Maliki's statement was "misunderstood and mistranslated" and "not conveyed accurately regarding the vision of Senator Barack Obama, U.S. presidential candidate, on the timeframe for U.S. forces withdrawal from Iraq." But as the Times notes al Dabbagh did not specify what had been mistranslated.

Another interesting detail, noted by the Times. al-Dabbagh's statement was released by CentCom. I do not know how often Iraqi government statements are released by CentCom.

So, the official Iraqi spokesman's statement was released by U.S. Central Command? Um, are they fucking kidding us? Couldn't they be a little more subtle about this?

On top of that, really? A misinterpretation? Really?! How could this whole thing be a misinterpretation? What, did the reputed and storied Der Spiegel drop a "not" here or there? Did Maliki really mean:

"U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months," he said in an interview with Der Spiegel that was released Saturday.

"That, we think, would be [NOT] right time frame for a withdrawal, with [NOT] the possibility of slight changes," he said.

I mean, please. How tortured. I can't wait for Der Spiegel to release the tape, because I have a feeling that a news magazine that battled with Nazi Germany and Communist East Germany is a little more savvy than the White House ... I'm sorry ... the Iraqi spokesman is giving it credit for.

Also, equally as [NOT] subtle is the alleged spokesman himself himself. Could they have tried to use someone who hasn't been a mouthpiece for the administration already? Someone who, I dunno, hasn't given press conferences from the freakin' White House Conference Center Briefing Room standing next to Dana freakin' Perino?! Repeatedly!?

Man, these guys can't even do a cover-up correctly.

UPDATE: Digg it! (thanks mouser)

UPDATE: Der Speiegel stands firm: "Der SPIEGEL bleibt jedoch bei seiner Darstellung." Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that means that they are standing behind the translation.

UPDATE: Original title ("Iraqi spokesman's" "clarification" came via CENTCOM, and other ridiculousness ) has been truncated to allow for update notices.

UPDATE: Der Speiegel definitely stands firm (international version):

Obama is pleased, but McCain certainly is not. In an interview with SPIEGEL, Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki expressed support for Obama's troop withdrawal plans. Despite a half-hearted retraction, the comments have stirred up the US presidential campaign. SPIEGEL stands by its version of the conversation....

In the interview, Maliki expressed support of Obama's plan to withdraw US troops from Iraq within 16 months. "That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of changes."

Maliki was quick to back away from an outright endorsement of Obama, saying "who they choose as their president is the Americans' business." But he then went on to say: "But it's the business of Iraqis to say what they want. And that's where the people and the government are in general agreement: The tenure of the coalition troops in Iraq should be limited."

A Baghdad government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, said in a statement that SPIEGEL had "misunderstood and mistranslated" the Iraqi prime minister, but didn't point to where the misunderstanding or mistranslation might have occurred. Al-Dabbagh said Maliki's comments "should not be understood as support to any US presidential candidates." The statement was sent out by the press desk of the US-led Multinational Force in Iraq.

A number of media outlets likewise professed to being confused by the statement from Maliki's office. The New York Times pointed out that al-Dabbagh's statement "did not address a specific error." CBS likewise expressed disbelief pointing out that Maliki mentions a timeframe for withdrawal three times in the interview and then asks, "how likely is it that SPIEGEL mistranslated three separate comments? The Atlantic Monthly was astonished by "how little effort was made" to make the Baghdad denial convincing. And the influential blog IraqSlogger also pointed out the lack of specifics in the government statement.

SPIEGEL sticks to its version of the conversation.

Maliki's comments immediately hit the headlines of US papers and Web sites across the country, partly the result of a White House employee inadvertently sending out a news alert to its full media distribution list. The White House said it was an error and that it was meant to be sent internally only.

.

And as a commenter points out, since they have a transcript up the entire interview up already, it's quite likely that they have a video or tape of the interview. Looking forward to CentCom ... er, the Iraqi spokeman's comment on that.

UPDATE: Quoting Josh Marshall, "what a surprise":

The statement by an aide to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki calling his remarks in Der Spiegel "misinterpreted and mistranslated" followed a call to the prime minister's office from U.S. government officials in Iraq.

Maliki had expressed support for a withdrawal plan similar to that of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama in an interview with Der Speigel. U.S. troops should leave Iraq "As soon as possible, as far as we're concerned," Maliki had said. "U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes."

But after the Spiegel interview was published and began generating headlines Saturday, officials at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad contacted Maliki's office to express concern and seek clarification on the remarks, according to White House spokesman Scott Stanzel.

Original here

Brown plans to withdraw troops as he backs Obama over 'war on terror'

Gordon Brown prepared the ground for a historic realignment in the "war on terror" yesterday by setting out a four-point plan for withdrawal of British troops from Iraq by the end of next year.

Although he is refusing to set a detailed timetable for withdrawal, it is clear Mr Brown is in agreement with the US presidential candidate Barack Obama on the need for military action in Afghanistan to take priority. Both appear to be working to a 16-month timetable.

While Mr Brown addressed troops in Basra and met Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, the Democratic hopeful arrived in Afghanistan to declare the US mission there to be more important than that in Iraq. Mr Obama is expected imminently in Iraq, and he will continue on to Europe. He will meet Mr Brown in Downing Street on Saturday.

Their approach is a marked departure from the policies of Tony Blair and President George Bush. But it nonetheless carries echoes of the "shoulder-to-shoulder" relationship between Britain and the US – if Mr Obama defeats his Republican rival John McCain in the November election.

Mr Brown, who will detail his plans to the Commons on Tuesday, laid out four conditions for withdrawal: the successful training of the Iraqi army; provincial elections to take place; the economic reconstruction of the country; and finally handing over sole responsibility of Basra airport to the Iraqis. Mr Brown said: "I am not setting an artificial timetable but what I can say is there is very significant progress in all these areas. Then we will reach a conclusion about what troop numbers will be. It is certainly our intention that we reduce troop numbers."

Some 20,000 Iraqi army soldiers have been trained so far, while Downing Street said it hoped provincial elections would be held at the end of this year.

According to the Iraqi Prime Minister's office, Mr Brown signalled that British troops could carry out a complete withdrawal by July 2009, but no exact timetable had been spelled out, British officials said.

When Mr Brown addressed British troops in Basra later, he told them they were close to finishing the job in Iraq. He said: "You are now working with the Iraqi forces to train them up, so that they can take over the responsibilities and we can complete our work here in bringing Basra to democracy, security and prosperity."

Mr Brown appears to be pinning his hopes of a revival to his leadership domestically on the suggestion that the final British soldier could be out before the 2010 general election.

The joint approach with Mr Obama also indicates Downing Street believes Mr Obama is more likely to win the US presidential election than Mr McCain. No 10 officials could avoid any suggestion of favouritism, however, by pointing to an agreement last week by President Bush and the Iraqi Prime Minister to set a "time horizon" for reducing American forces in Iraq.

Mr Maliki also appears to be getting ready for an Obama presidency, with a German magazine quoting him as saying he wanted US troops to withdraw from Iraq. "Barack Obama talks about 16 months," he told Der Spiegel. "That ... would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes."

Mr Brown's one-day trip was designed to show that progress is being made in preparing to hand over complete control of Basra, and shift the focus of Britain's military commitment to Afghanistan. A senior British official said the UK's strategy in Iraq was "moving beyond the conflict period", pointing out there have been only two British military fatalities this year.

The IoS poll reveals the widespread public demand for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq. Nearly three-quarters – 74 per cent – of people want British troops to return to the UK as soon as possible, up from two years ago, when 62 per cent said troops should be pulled out. Today's poll also shows that 66 per cent believe Britain should never have become involved in Iraq in the first place.

Mr Brown is expected to tell MPs on Tuesday that the number of combat troops can be scaled down from next year, in a clear move to bolster his leadership and help his party to defend Glasgow East against the SNP in Thursday's by-election.

Last autumn, Mr Brown tried to set a timetable for partial withdrawal by announcing that Britain's commitment would be scaled back from 4,000 to 2,500 by this spring. But changes to the Iraqi army have sent this plan awry.

Gunning for Gordon

The image above reportedly turned a Downing Street press officer "white with shock" – Gordon Brown sat behind a Puma helicopter's machine gun during yesterday's visit to Baghdad. Mr Brown had not posed for the shot: he had merely turned to chat to the gunner who let go of his weapon. Sensing a public relations disaster Mr Brown's secretaries tried to intervene, but too late. The picture had already been wired around the world.

Original here

Rendering public opinion irrelevant

One of the most striking aspects of our political discourse, particularly during election time, is how efficiently certain views that deviate from the elite consensus are banished from sight -- simply prohibited -- even when those views are held by the vast majority of citizens. The University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes -- the premiere organization for surveying international public opinion -- released a new survey a couple of weeks ago regarding public opinion on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, including opinion among American citizens, and this is what it found:

A new WorldPublicOpinion.org poll of 18 countries finds that in 14 of them people mostly say their government should not take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Just three countries favor taking the Palestinian side (Egypt, Iran, and Turkey) and one is divided (India). No country favors taking Israel's side, including the United States, where 71 percent favor taking neither side.
The worldwide consensus is crystal clear -- citizens want their Governments to be neutral and even-handed in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, not tilted towards either side. And that consensus is shared not just by a majority of American citizens, but by the overwhelming majority. Few political views, particularly on controversial issues, attract more than 70% support among American citizens. But the proposition that the U.S. Government should be even-handed -- rather than tilting towards Israel -- attracts that much support. That's not an "anti-Israeli" view -- to the contrary, it's a position that America can and should resolve that violent, four-decades-long dispute by being even-handed rather than one-sided.

Similarly, when asked "How well do you think Israel is doing its part in the effort to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict," citizens around the world, by a large margin, believe that Israel is doing either "not very well" or "not well at all" (54% -- compared to 23% that say it's doing "very well" or "somewhat well"). And there, too, that worldwide view corresponds to American public opinion as well. 59% of Americans say Israel is doing either "not very well" or "not well at all" -- compared to only 30% that say it's doing "very well" or "somewhat well." And Palestinians don't fare much better worldwide (38-49%) and fare worse in the U.S. (15-75%).

Yet not only is the view of "even-handedness" completely unrepresented among mainstream political figures in the U.S., it's deemed political death to go anywhere near expressing that view. Back in 2003, then-presidential-candidate Howard Dean expressed the exact position favored by an overwhelming majority of Americans, yet triggered an intense and even ugly controversy by doing so:

Dean's Israel troubles began at a Sept. 3 campaign event in Santa Fe, N.M. When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said that day, "It's not our place to take sides." Then, on Sept. 9, he told the Washington Post that America should be "evenhanded" in its approach to the region.
That's all Dean said. It's a view held by more than 70% of Americans. It ought to be completely uncontroversial -- if anything, it ought to be that view that is deemed a political piety. But what happened? This, according to an excellent account of that "controversy" in Salon by Michelle Goldberg:
The media and the Democratic establishment reacted as if Dean had called Yasser Arafat a man of peace. On Sept. 10, 34 Democratic members of Congress, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, wrote Dean an open letter. "American foreign policy has been -- and must continue to be -- based on unequivocal support for Israel's right to exist and to be free from terror . . ." they wrote. "It is unacceptable for the U.S. to be 'evenhanded' on these fundamental issues . . . This is not a time to be sending mixed messages; on the contrary, in these difficult times we must reaffirm our unyielding commitment to Israel's survival and raise our voices against all forms of terrorism and incitement."

The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported that Dean had badly damaged his own campaign. "Sources in the Jewish community say that Dean has wrecked his chances of getting significant contributions from Jews . . ." the paper wrote. "Many believe Dean's statement will drive more Jews toward Lieberman and Kerry, enabling Kerry to take the lead again."

Dean was roundly attacked by the political elite for uttering "anti-Israel" comments, notwithstanding the fact that Dean is married to a Jewish woman, raised his children as Jews, and, most amazingly of all, had a campaign that was managed by Steve Grossman, a former President of AIPAC. But no matter: Dean had uttered a Forbidden Thought -- forbidden even though it is embraced by the vast majority of Americans -- and thus Grossman and Dean had to subject themselves to abject Apology Rituals:
According to the Dean campaign, the uproar involved semantics, not substance. "Here's what I think happened," says Grossman, Dean's campaign co-chair. "Howard made some comments in someone's backyard in New Mexico that were shorthand, if you will, for some of his Middle East views. In the course of those remarks and some others in the subsequent days, he used some language that gave people consternation, and it was immediately jumped on by Joe Lieberman and John Kerry that somehow Howard Dean was breaking faith with this 55-year tradition of the United States' special relationship with Israel, which is patently absurd". . . .

If Dean's Israel position really puts him far out on the left, it proves that not showing unequivocal support for the Jewish state remains a political poison pill -- for members of either political party. . . .

After all, according to Grossman, the candidate remains in sync with the goals of Bush's Israel policy. . . . No serious candidate took a position to the left of Bush. Indeed, it's precisely because there's no real leftist alternative that Dean's been cast in that role. . . . . But a campaign is always more about images and impressions than carefully formulated positions, and that's where Dean has blundered.

It was conventional wisdom that that Dean had committed some grave mistake even though, as The Nation's John Nichols highlighted at the time, Dean was expressing the overwhelming majority view even back in 2003:
More troubling is the condemnation by Pelosi and other party leaders of even a hint of "evenhandedness." That smacks of the old game of positioning Democrats to the right of the Republicans on Middle East policy -- in a perceived contest for Jewish-American votes and contributions. The problem with this approach, as Middle East scholar Stephen Zunes points out, is that "this suggests you cannot be firmly committed to Israel and question [Israel's hawkish Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon's policies. If that's where Democrats put themselves, they don't leave room to debate Bush on the issue." They'll also have a tougher time appealing to American voters -- 73 percent of whom, according to a recent University of Maryland poll, prefer that the United States not take sides.
It's pretty extraordinary that in a democracy, the political elite is able to render completely off-limits a view that the vast majority of Americans support. They actually render majority-held views unspeakable and then remove the issue entirely from what is debated. No matter what one's views are, there is no denying that our policy towards Israel is immensely consequential for our country. Yet, by virtue of the fact that presidential candidates are required to affirm essentially the same orthodoxies, there's very little difference in their positions towards Israel and therefore our current policy approach towards Israel will simply not be part of anything that is debated, even though most Americans overwhelmingly oppose that course.

Indeed, as soon as he secured the Democratic nomination, Barack Obama made a pilgrimage to AIPAC in order to avoid the "Howard Dean mistake" and to vow that there would be no such debate over Israel in this election:

I have been proud to be a part of a strong, bi-partisan consensus that has stood by Israel in the face of all threats. That is a commitment that both John McCain and I share, because support for Israel in this country goes beyond party. . . .

And then there are those who would lay all of the problems of the Middle East at the doorstep of Israel and its supporters, as if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the root of all trouble in the region. These voices blame the Middle East's only democracy for the region's extremism. They offer the false promise that abandoning a stalwart ally is somehow the path to strength. It is not, it never has been, and it never will be.

Our alliance is based on shared interests and shared values. Those who threaten Israel threaten us. Israel has always faced these threats on the front lines. And I will bring to the White House an unshakeable commitment to Israel's security.

That starts with ensuring Israel's qualitative military advantage. I will ensure that Israel can defend itself from any threat -- from Gaza to Tehran. Defense cooperation between the United States and Israel is a model of success, and must be deepened. As President, I will implement a Memorandum of Understanding that provides $30 billion in assistance to Israel over the next decade -- investments to Israel's security that will not be tied to any other nation.

In fairness, Obama did attack what he called the "failed status quo"; disputed that "America's recent foreign policy has made Israel more secure"; and pointed to "eight years of accumulated evidence that our foreign policy is dangerously flawed." Moreover, Obama -- to his great credit -- spent the primary season making some important and unorthodox points about Palestinian suffering and pointing out that the President should not be blindly supportive of everything Israel's right-wing does, that being "pro-Israel" doesn't mean a refusal to oppose Israeli actions.

But by uttering such Forbidden (though quite mainstream) thoughts, Obama was mercilessly attacked as anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic, and with the nomination secured, the crux of his June AIPAC speech was an affirmation of our political establishment's mandated Israel orthodoxy: the continuation of America's one-sided alliance with Israel, as highlighted by commitments such as this:

Finally, let there be no doubt: I will always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our security and our ally Israel. Sometimes there are no alternatives to confrontation. . . . That is the change we need in our foreign policy. Change that restores American power and influence. Change accompanied by a pledge that I will make known to allies and adversaries alike: that America maintains an unwavering friendship with Israel, and an unshakeable commitment to its security. . . .

As members of AIPAC, you have helped advance this bipartisan consensus to support and defend our ally Israel. And I am sure that today on Capitol Hill you will be meeting with members of Congress and spreading the word. But we are here because of more than policy. We are here because the values we hold dear are deeply embedded in the story of Israel.

Again, the point has nothing to do with one's views of the best policy towards Israel. The point is that a position which the vast majority of Americans embrace is one that, simultaneously, is forbidden to be expressed, and the election consequently will involve no debate over that issue.

That profoundly anti-democratic dynamic is by no means confined to Israel. That's just an example. A different University of Maryland poll was released in April of this year, which surveyed public opinion in Iran and the U.S. regarding the disputes between those two countries. The populations of both countries have strikingly similar views with regard to those matters, with large majorities favoring the same deal to resolve the dispute (Iran has the right to develop nuclear energy accompanied by IAEA inspections to prevent weaponization), and large majorities also favor the NPT's goal of "eliminating all nuclear weapons." More strikingly, the citizens of both countries overwhelmingly favor the same policies of rapproachment and cooperation, rather than the bluster, threats, and ongoing provocative acts engaged in by both of their governments:



Remarkably, this desire for cooperation rather than confrontation is the view of most Americans despite the Iraq-level misinformation and propaganda which our political elite has disseminated about Iran:


And while Iranian President Ahmadinejad is depicted by our political class as the Equivalent of Adolf Hitler, savagely oppressing Iranians as some sort of insane, vicious tyrant, that isn't how they see it:


Iranian public opinion distinguishes between the U.S. Government and the American people -- holding favorable views towards the latter and unfavorable views towards the former ("some portrayed the American people, like the Muslim people, as victims of the American government") -- and to the extent there is "anti-Americanism" in Iran, it is based on this widespread assessment:


That, too, is a belief widely held in many places in the world, yet is one that no mainstream politician in the U.S. could express.

There are all sorts of reasons why our presidential elections center on personality-based sideshows (even Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell said as much about her own paper's coverage today). Those gossipy matters are easier for our slothful, vapid media stars to digest and spout. They require very few resources to cover. The campaign consultants who run national political campaigns are experts in P.R. strategies for packaging personalities and indifferent to policy debates, etc. etc.

But one principal reason is that so many of the Government's most consequential actions are concealed behind a wall of secrecy and thus not subject to public debate. Meanwhile, those policies which are publicly disclosed are kept off-limits from any real debate and, even when they are debated, public opinion is almost completely marginalized in favor of the minority elite consensus (see, for instance, the endless Iraq war even in the face of long-standing, overwhelming support for its end).

That remarkable dynamic of debate-suppression is most conspicuous -- and most urgent -- when the policies favored by the political establishment are ones that are vigorously rejected by the citizenry. Thus we have the extraordinary fact that a policy that has long been favored by the vast majority of Americans -- even-handedness in the Israel-Palestinian conflict -- is one that no mainstream American politician of any national significance can espouse without triggering an immediate end to their political career. That discrepancy is a rather potent commentary on how our democracy functions.

Original here

Political harmony v. the rule of law: an easy choice for the political establishment

Former Congressman Harold Ford appeared at the Netroots Nation conference yesterday, argued that Bush officials shouldn't be held accountable for crimes they committed while in office, and then insisted that Democrats shouldn't be expected to defend civil liberties and Constitutional rights because -- as one observer summarized Ford's point -- "the Constitution doesn't poll very well." In arguing against prosecutions for Bush lawbreaking, Ford said that Bush officials already have been subjected to accountability for their lawbreaking: "'I think that accountability was brought in 2006 when [the GOP] lost in the House and the Senate,' Ford said. 'And we have only eight more months of George W. Bush . . .'"

Regarding Ford's argument, casual_observer says in comments:

I think this is it, in crystallized form. "Accountability" equals loss of majority for one's party. Majority -- power -- is all that matters. 'Law' comes in a distant second, if it is considered at all.

Ford proudly terms himself a 'centrist' in the Democratic Party, but this position is radically un-democratic, and when viewed logically, is every bit as bad as the logic of Rove, Yoo, or Addington. It is anathema to a truly functioning democratic government.

That's certainly true, but it's hardly an uncommon view. Quite the contrary. I'd say that Ford's view is as much a shared, Bipartisan Article of Faith among our political class as any other single idea. Here's what The New Yorker's Jane Mayer reported last week during her Washington Post chat:
Albany New York: I've already ordered your book from Amazon, but am very interested in your take on why there's been no little effective political opposition to any of this Administration's initiatives. Is it a question of limited public awareness or interest, or a more political calculation that one shouldn't appear to be soft on terrorism?

Jane Mayer: Since you're in New York, let me tell you about a conversation I had with one of your senators, Chuck Schumer. When I asked him why, given his safe seat, and ostensible concern for civil liberties, he didn't speak out more against the Bush Administration's detention and interrogation programs, he said in essence that voters don't care about these issues. So, he said, he wasn't going to talk about them.

Writing from the Netroots Nation conference, The Nation's Ari Melber detailed what he calls "Bipartisan Attacks on the Rule of Law," and specifically highlighted the fact that close Obama adviser, Professor Cass Sunstein of the University of Chicago, "cautioned against prosecuting criminal conduct from the current Administration" during a Conference panel. As Melber wrote:
Prosecuting government officials risks a "cycle" of criminalizing public service, [Sunstein] argued, and Democrats should avoid replicating retributive efforts like the impeachment of President Clinton -- or even the "slight appearance" of it.
As I documented last week, the idea that the Rule of Law is only for common people, but not for our political leaders and Washington elite, is pervasive among the political and pundit class, in both parties. While common Americans should be imprisoned in record numbers when they break the law, the worst that should happen to the political elite when they commit crimes is that they should be voted out of office. That's the dominant mentality governing how our political system works.

For all the talk about how radical and lawless the Bush administration has been, this widely-shared view that our political leaders should be immune from consequences for lawbreaking is the administration's defining belief. After the 2004 election, President Bush held a news conference and was asked about the failures in Iraq, and this is what he said:

QUESTION: Why hasn't anyone been held accountable, either through firings or demotions, for what some people see as mistakes or misjudgments?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we had an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004 election.

On December 16, 2005 -- the day after the NYT revealed that Bush was breaking the law in spying on Americans without warrants -- Digby noted that exchange and wrote:
He, like Nixon, believes that the president has only one "accountability moment" while he is president. His re-election. Beyond that, he has been given a blank check. And that includes breaking the law since if the president does it, it's not illegal, the president being the executive branch which is not subject to any other branch of government.
But it isn't only the Bush administration that believes that. That was why Gerald Ford was widely praised for pardoning Nixon (Ford said "he acted to restore harmony and move on"). That's the same argument used by Bush 41 to pardon Iran-contra lawbreakers, and it's what the Washington Establishment said when -- liberal and conservative pundits alike -- they defended those pardons of Casper Weinberger and the other Iran-contra lawbreakers:
Another favored Republican was Reagan's Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who like Shultz earned his insider spurs during the Nixon administration. Weinberger's false Iran-contra testimony was even more blatant than Shultz's, causing Walsh to indict Weinberger for perjury in 1992.

The Washington elites rallied to Weinberger's defense. In the salons of Georgetown, there was palpable relief in December 1992 when President Bush pardoned Weinberger and five other Iran-contra defendants, effectively ending the Iran-contra investigation.

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen spoke for many insiders. In a column, Cohen described how impressed he was that Weinberger would push his own shopping cart at the Georgetown Safeway, often called the "social Safeway" because so many members of Washington's Establishment shopped there.

"Based on my Safeway encounters, I came to think of Weinberger as a basic sort of guy, candid and no nonsense -- which is the way much of official Washington saw him," Cohen wrote in praise of the pardon. "Cap, my Safeway buddy, walks, and that's all right with me." [WP, Dec. 30, 1992.]

As Atrios pointed out and documented, "This was the basic view of much of the establishment 'liberal' commentariat."

And this is exactly what we are now hearing from the likes of Harold Ford, Chuck Schumer, Cass Sunstein, David Broder, Tim Rutten, and on and on and on -- criminal prosecutions for government lawbreakers are far too disruptive and politically untenable and unfair. The only fair reaction is just to vote them out of office or wait until they leave on their own accord. All of the Beltway platitudes are trotted out -- we can't look backwards, or "criminalize policy disputes," or get caught up in unpleasant battles over prosecutions when we have too many other important problems too solve -- all in order to argue that, no matter what happens, our glorious political leaders should never be held accountable in a court of law, like everyone else is, when they break the law.

Why would we expect political officials to do anything other than break the law if we continuously tell them -- as we've been doing -- that they are exempt from consequences? And how can Bush -- or Nixon -- be criticized for conceiving of the Presidency as being above the law when that's how our political establishment, including many Democrats, explicitly conceive of it as well?

In today's The New York Times, Charlie Savage reports that right-wing activists have already begun agitating for full-scale pardons for all parties involved in Bush's illegal surveillance and torture programs:

As the administration wrestles with the cascade of petitions, some lawyers and law professors are raising a related question: Will Mr. Bush grant pre-emptive pardons to officials involved in controversial counterterrorism programs?

Such a pardon would reduce the risk that a future administration might undertake a criminal investigation of operatives or policy makers involved in programs that administration lawyers have said were legal but that critics say violated laws regarding torture and surveillance. Some legal analysts said Mr. Bush might be reluctant to issue such pardons because they could be construed as an implicit admission of guilt.

But several members of the conservative legal community in Washington said in interviews that they hoped Mr. Bush would issue such pardons -- whether or not anyone made a specific request for one. They said people who carried out the president's orders should not be exposed even to the risk of an investigation and expensive legal bills.

"The president should pre-empt any long-term investigations," said Victoria Toensing, who was a Justice Department counterterrorism official in the Reagan administration. "If we don't protect these people who are proceeding in good faith, no one will ever take chances."

Emily Lawrimore, a White House spokeswoman, would not say whether the administration was considering pre-emptive pardons, nor whether it would rule them out.

Given the widespread consensus in our political class that criminal investigations and prosecutions for the crimes of political leaders are terribly uncouth and disruptive, it seems as though few things are more unnecessary than issuing pardons of this sort. But if Bush does end up issuing full-scale pardons for anyone involved in his illegal torture and surveillance programs, how can the Democratic leadership and pundit class object? They're busy arguing now that the rule of law isn't applicable to high government officials and that we should -- once again -- just overlook and forget about the rampant lawbreaking by our Government.

Full-scale pardons are just the natural extension of this view -- as is future presidential lawbreaking. We can pretend that Bush and Nixon had radical and fringe views of presidential lawbreaking but those views are far more accepted than such pretenses suggest.

UPDATE: About Harold Ford's appearance at Netroots Nation, Ezra Klein says that because the netroots is so much more powerful and influential within the Democratic Party than the DLC is, it's unnecessary for the netroots to battle against the likes of Harold Ford. It's truly baffling how anyone could have watched the Bush-enabling Democrats over the last two years and claim that the DLC mentality is marginalized and the netroots mentality is predominant. If anything, the fading away of the DLC is a function of the fact that its worldview predominates in the Democratic Party and there's thus no need for an organization like that to try to "reform" the Democrats by making them "centrist." At Talk Left, Armando elaborates on that point.

UPDATE II: On a side (though not entirely unrelated) note, the aforementioned Obama friend, Cass Sunstein -- protector of Bush lawbreakers, advocate of illegal Bush spying and radical presidential powers, and fierce critic of blogs as "anti-democratic" -- earlier this month married beloved Obama foreign policy adviser Samantha Power. It's amazing how these sorts of circles always end up being so cozily closed.

Original here

McCain Aide Scheunemann Linked To Bush Library ‘Cash For Access’ Scandal»

Earlier this month, the Sunday Times caught longtime Bush associate Stephen Payne on tape offering access to top Bush administration officials in exchange for “six-figure donations to the private library being set up to commemorate Bush’s presidency.” Payne, who is now being investigated by the Homeland Security Department and the House Oversight Committee, made the offer to Kazakh politician Yerzhan Dosmukhamedov, who is also known as Eric Dos.

The Times reported that Dos had previously worked with Payne to arrange a 2006 visit by Vice President Dick Cheney to Kazakhstan. Dos claims that in exchange for arranging Cheney’s trip, “a payment of $2m was passed, via a Kazakh oil and gas company, to Payne’s firm.” Payne denies that any such arrangement existed.

But the Times reports today that Payne may be lying about his business dealings and that the money may have been funneled through a sister company to Payne’s lobbying firm:

The Sunday Times, however, has discovered the existence of a channel through which funds from the Kazakh government could have been readily transferred.

A sister company to WSP, Worldwide Strategic Energy (WSE), of which Payne is also president, has a subsidiary, Caspian Alliance, which is the sole US representative for KMG.

The Times reports that a top adviser to Sen. John McCain, lobbyist Randy Scheunemann, has direct ties to the company that is alleged to have funneled the funds:

In a further link, Randy Scheunemann, chief foreign policy and national security adviser to John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, was listed in the WSE brochure as part of its executive team. Scheunemann and Associates, his lobbying firm, is reported as having represented the Caspian Alliance in 2005.

At the undercover meeting last week, Payne said Scheunemann had been “working with me on my payroll for five of the last eight years”. When confronted over the link to KMG, Payne declined to comment.

During his trip to Kazakhstan, Cheney ignored the country’s bad record on human rights and declared his “admiration for what has transpired here in Kazakhstan over the past 15 years.” Earlier this month, Payne told an undercover Times report that Cheney was more interested in what Kazakhstan “could do on energy” than “making them toe the line on human rights.”

Original here

Census Won't Report Gay Marriage

Same-sex marriage is legal in two states, but not a single one will show up in the 2010 census.

The Census Bureau says the federal Defense of Marriage Act bars the agency from recognizing gay marriages in the nation's 10-year count, even though the marriages are legal in Massachusetts and California.

The agency's director, Steven Murdock, said in an interview Thursday that the 1996 federal law "has that effect, in terms of being a federal agency. We are restricted by it."

The Census Bureau does not ask people about their sexual orientation, but it does ask about their relationships to the head of the household. Many gay couples are listed in census figures as unmarried, same-sex partners, though it is an imperfect tally of all gay couples.

Murdock said the bureau will strive to count same-sex couples in the 2010 census, just as it has in the past. But those people who say they are married will be reclassified as unmarried, same-sex partners.

Same-sex couples with no children will not be classified as families, according the bureau's policy. Those with children who are related to the head of the household will be classified as families.

Gay rights advocates complained that the Census Bureau is depriving them of a hard-fought legal recognition.

"To completely whitewash us out of existence is hurtful, discriminatory and shameful," said Molly McKay of Marriage Equality USA, a California-based group that advocates for same-sex marriage. "It's like the federal government is trying to say that we don't exist."

McKay said an accurate count of same-sex married couples would help policymakers determine the costs of providing benefits.

McKay, 38, said she plans to marry her partner of 12 years on Sept. 1, now that they are legally able to marry in California. She said they consider themselves "an old married couple," even if the government doesn't.

"This is a very sweet moment in our life. It really is an absolutely joyous time," McKay said. "The notion that the federal government is going to come in and erase our existence is un-American."

The Census Bureau is required by the Constitution to conduct a comprehensive count of the nation's residents every 10 years. Every question is either mandated by federal law or used to administer a federal program, Murdock said.

Same-sex marriage was not an issue in the 2000 census because it wasn't legal in any state. The Census Bureau's policy on same-sex marriages was first reported in the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News.

The bureau relies almost entirely on people's responses to classify them by race, ethnicity, age and income. But not marital status - at least not in 2010.

"It really should be what you say you are, not what I perceive you to be," Murdock said. But, the agency director added, "We have some limitations. This particular act limits us in regards to this issue."