Later this week the House will debate a $124 billion dollar bill to fund the War the Iraq through the end of FY 2007. As you probably already know, Speaker Pelosi is walking a political tightrope between conservative members of her caucus who may oppose the eventual drawdown of troop numbers and restrictions on the President in the bill, and anti-war Democrats who don't think there are enough strings attached to the bill. Here's how she pitched the bill in a floor speech last night:
Again and again, Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic Leader, and I, have urged President Bush to adopt a plan for Iraq containing the following elements: transition the mission from combat to training; responsibly redeploy our troops; build consensus for political accommodation in Iraq; encourage a robust diplomatic effort, primarily involving Iraq’s neighbors. We must then reform and reinvigorate the reconstruction effort; and refocus on the real war on terror – the war in Afghanistan.
Later this week we will debate a plan to bring the war to an end. The U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Health, and Iraq Accountability Act will rebuild our military, protect our troops, provide for our veterans, and hold the Iraqi government accountable.
The benchmarks for the Iraqi government set forth in this bill are the benchmarks endorsed by President Bush on January 10. They are: improvements in the performance of the Iraqi security forces; a greater commitment by the Iraqi government to national reconciliation; and reductions in the levels of sectarian violence in Iraq.
After four years of war, it is reasonable to expect these benchmarks to be met this year.
I welcome the debate over this bill and the opportunity it provides for Members of Congress to express themselves on what the greatest ethical challenge facing our country.
Of course, the President is strongly opposed to the bill, has threatened to veto it and in yesterday's Iraq War anniversary speech - at the end of the bloodiest year so far - said, "They [Congress] have a responsibility to get this bill to my desk without strings and without delay." Of course, he gave the speech under a portrait of Teddy Roosevelt in heroic Rough Rider garb. One thing that can be said for this White House, they still know how to pull-off a photo-shoot as delusion of grandeur.
Matt Miller from CAP writes about an innovative way to solve the health care crisis in this country, in his Fortune Magazinecolumn:
Start with the fact that business now spends a stunning $500 billion a year, or 4% of GDP, on health-care benefits. Let’s say we shifted that cost to government—that’s right, relieved business of it entirely—and, to make matters simple, combined it with other public funds to give citizens a voucher with which they could buy a private health plan. To pay for this without boosting the deficit, we’d raise taxes by an identical amount—not on business, of course, but on taxpayers broadly, via various gas or carbon taxes that would have the salutary side effect of helping cure our energy and environmental woes. Note that the total amount the country is spending on health care doesn’t change under this scheme; we just shift the financing burden from business to the general population, via government. (To make the left happy, we can toss another 1% of GDP into the pot in new taxes to make sure the vouchers go to all today’s uninsured as well. Presto, universal health coverage.)
What would business think of such an idea? Policy suggestions like this would ordinarily be dead on arrival, decried as a record $500 billion tax hike sure to sink the economy. But what if the business community rose as one to force politicians to get past such rhetoric—and publicly trumpeted the need for the new taxes? It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. Look what we’d be doing: We’d free business from the burden of financing health care. (Employers emotionally or paternalistically attached to their health role could still facilitate and arrange for coverage, just not fund it, as conservative Heritage Foundation scholar Stuart Butler lays out in a forthcoming paper for Bob Rubin’s Hamilton Project.) The boon for competitiveness—not to mention shareholder value and the stock market—is obvious. And to seal the deal for skeptical capitalists, conservative economists declare that this brand of tax hike should have no impact on growth. "In one scenario we call health expenditures government, and in another we don’t. What does it matter?" says Kevin Hassett, head of economics at the American Enterprise Institute and an advisor to John McCain. "It’s hard to imagine that would have the negative growth effects" normally ascribed to tax increases in the economics literature.
It's at the very least an idea worth debating and Matt finishes with an arguement that NDN's Globalization Initiative has been making for the past year, that American companies need to make improving their employees standards of living a priority now, or face the consequences.
If business doesn’t help Washington fix these essentials before long, rising worker anxiety will produce a protectionist backlash that could wreck everything capitalists believe in. Instead of reflexively resisting the idea of government and taxes, therefore, business leaders must now do some constructive, nonideological thinking if they want to serve corporate America’s self-interest—and the country’s.
The new issue of Foreign Affairs has an excellent piece on the future of of our policy in Iraq. Written by James Fearon, a Stanford professor, the article takes a look at the history of Civil Wars since WWII, and asseses the likelihood of the success of our current policy. He is not optimistic.
Suppose that the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad continues and Sunni insurgent groups and Shiite militias continue to fight one another, U.S. troops, and civilians. If the Bush administration sticks to its "stay the course toward victory" approach, of which the surge option is the latest incarnation, it will become increasingly apparent that this policy amounts to siding with the Shiites in an extremely vicious Sunni-Shiite war. U.S. troops may play some positive role in preventing human rights abuses by Iraqi army units and slowing down violence and ethnic cleansing. But as long as the United States remains committed to trying to make this Iraqi government "succeed" on the terms President Bush has laid out, there is no escaping the fact that the central function of U.S. troops will be to backstop Maliki's government or its successor. That security gives Maliki and his coalition the ability to tacitly pursue (or acquiesce in) a dirty war against actual and imagined Sunni antagonists while publicly supporting "national reconciliation."
This policy is hard to defend on the grounds of either morality or national interest. Even if Shiite thugs and their facilitators in the government could succeed in ridding Baghdad of Sunnis, it is highly unlikely that they would be able to suppress the insurgency in the Sunni-majority provinces in western Iraq or to prevent attacks in Baghdad and other places where Shiites live. In other words, the current U.S. policy probably will not lead to a decisive military victory anytime soon, if ever. And even if it did, would Washington want it to? The rise of a brutal, ethnically exclusivist, Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad would further the perception of Iran as the ascendant regional power. Moreover, U.S. backing for such a government would give Iraqi Sunnis and the Sunni-dominated countries in the Middle East no reason not to support al Qaeda as an ally in Iraq. By spurring these states to support Sunni forces fighting the Shiite government, such backing would ultimately pit the United States against those states in a proxy war.
To avail itself of more attractive policy options, the Bush administration (or its successor) must break off its unconditional military support for the Shiite-dominated government that it helped bring to power in Baghdad. Washington's commitment to Maliki's government undermines U.S. diplomatic and military leverage with almost every relevant party in the country and the region. Starting to move away from this commitment by shifting combat troops out of the central theaters could, accordingly, increase U.S. leverage with almost all parties. The current Shiite political leadership would then have incentives to try to gain back U.S. military support by, for example, making more genuine efforts to incorporate Sunnis into the government or reining in Shiite militias. (Admittedly, whether it has the capacity to do either is unclear.) As U.S. troops departed, Sunni insurgent groups would begin to see the United States less as a committed ally of the "Persians" and more as a potential source of financial or even military backing. Washington would also have more leverage with Iran and Syria, because the U.S. military would not be completely bogged down in Baghdad and Anbar Province -- and because both of those countries have a direct interest in avoiding increased chaos in Iraq..
As I've been writing for months, I think it is now clear that the Administration did not understand the fundamentally new regional dynamic creating the first Shiite-led Arab government in history would create. In hindsight there was almost no chance we could have ended up in Iraq in any other place than where we are today. The frustration of 1300 years of Shiite oppression by the region's Sunnis was never going to lend itself to a quick and stable outcome. Or for Iran, the region's most powerful Shiite regime, to do anything than work to consolidate their position with their extraordinary new ally, run, with America's help, by political parties closely aligned with the their own government.
What this means is that we have very little to celebrate on this 4th Anniversary of the Iraq War, and must marvel at the incredible stupidity of the man who got us into this mess without a plan, and had the audicity to declare in front of the world "Mission Accomplished."
"This ad represents the emergence of a new era in political advertising," said Simon Rosenberg, president of the Washington-based New Democrat Network, an influential party advocacy group.
"It's a condition of 21st century politics," said Rosenberg. "It's a brave new world…the barrier to entry for politics has been lowered and it's much easier for average Americans to participate and engage..."
"It used to be that unless they bought tens of millions of dollars in advertising, you weren't going to be heard," said Rosenberg. "Now, if an ad catches on, on YouTube or wherever, and becomes trendy and exciting, it could have just as much impact," he said...
"This is unsettling, particularly for the candidate," said Rosenberg. "It means that increasingly, the political campaigns are going to be one voice among many, albeit a very loud one," he said.
"They're not going to be in control and there's nothing they can do about that," said Rosenberg...
"The next big thing to watch is broadcast quality video becoming available on mobile phones," said Rosenberg.
"We have no idea what the campaigns are going to look like in Fall 2008 because the velocity of change is increasing," said Rosenberg, noting that the Apple iPhone is scheduled for launch in June 2007.
"Broadband video will be in 80 million phones by 2009," said Rosenberg, "YouTube is going mobile by the end of the year. TiVo will soon allow you to record things off the Internet. Media, including these viral political ads, are going to be viewed in a rapidly accelerated way," he said.
The compelling "Hillary 1984" video recently introduced on YouTube represents "a new era, a new wave of politics ... because it's not about Obama," said Peter Leyden, director of the New Politics Institute, a San Francisco-based think tank on politics and new media. "It's about the end of the broadcast era."
The ad is proof that "anybody can do powerful emotional ads ... and the campaigns are no longer in control," Rosenberg said. "It will no longer be a top-down candidate message; that's a 20th century broadcast model."
It also dramatizes that today, political activists with the Internet as their ammunition have gone from being "just donors to the cause," he said, "to being partners in the fight. And they don't have to wait for permission."
The Miami Heraldtells us that Mitt Romney, in a speech to Cuban Americans in Miami, associated a statement often used by Fidel Castro with a free Cuba. The statement is Patria o muerte, venceremos! which means ''Fatherland or death, we shall overcome.''
For more information on NDN's coverage of the 2008 Presidential election, click here.
This Washington Posteditorial gives us yet another example of how the immigration system needs to be fixed. This time the focus is on a raid in New Bedford, MA, where about 360 illegal immigrants, many of whom worked in sweatshop-like conditions, were arrested. The last paragraph says it all:
Cruel, self-defeating and illogical, the New Bedford raid is an inelegant example of how badly this country needs a clear-eyed immigration policy, one that provides not only for tough enforcement but also humane protections and a path to citizenship for immigrants who have put down roots and contributed to the national economy. The current regimen is a blight -- on immigrants who need the work, on employers who need the labor, and on a nation whose ideals of fair play and image as a welcoming and caring place are seriously at risk.
In the panel, Simon highlighted that “despite very difficult politics, despite the fact that the cartel violence in Mexico is very real, and is something that we can’t ignore, crime on the US side of the border has plummeted.”