Scant evidence found of Iran-Iraq arms linkU.S. warnings of advanced weaponry crossing the border are overstated, critics sayBAQUBAH, IRAQ — If there is anywhere Iran could easily stir up trouble in Iraq, it would be in Diyala, a rugged province along the border between the two nations.
The combination of Sunni Arab militants believed to be affiliated with Al Qaeda and Shiite Muslim militiamen with ties to Iran has fueled waves of sectarian and political violence here. The province is bisected by long-traveled routes leading from Iran to Baghdad and Shiite holy cities farther south in Iraq.
But even here, evidence of Iranian involvement in Iraq's troubles is limited. U.S. troops have found mortars and antitank mines with Iranian markings dated 2006, said U.S. Army Col. David W. Sutherland, who oversees the province. But there has been little sign of more advanced weaponry crossing the border, and no Iranian agents have been found.
In his speech this month outlining the new U.S. strategy in Iraq, President Bush promised to "seek out and destroy" Iranian networks that he said were providing "advanced weaponry and training to our enemies." He is expected to strike a similar note in tonight's State of the Union speech.
For all the aggressive rhetoric, however, the Bush administration has provided scant evidence to support these claims. Nor have reporters traveling with U.S. troops seen extensive signs of Iranian involvement. During a recent sweep through a stronghold of Sunni insurgents here, a single Iranian machine gun turned up among dozens of arms caches U.S. troops uncovered. British officials have similarly accused Iran of meddling in Iraqi affairs, but say they have not found Iranian-made weapons in areas they patrol.
Tonight, President Bush will attempt to explain away, again, his foreign policy mistakes, and offer the Democrats a few olive branches on domestic issues. While we should all welcome his overtures on important challenges like health care and immigration reform, my sense is that anyone watching tonight will be filled with a profound sense of “what might have been” – of the lives, years, money, opportunities and good will squandered by this Administration.
Looking back, it is interesting to see how our nation has changed from just a year ago. Consider this except from a memo I wrote to all of you on the morning of last year’s State of the Union:
Tonight, the President reports to the nation on the State of the Union. We will hear soaring rhetoric, powerful words, a President resolute and determined. We will hear of victories, progress, and pride. He will tell a compelling story – and very little of it will be true.
The truly compelling story of this decade is one that Bush doesn’t want told – the rapid and dramatic failure of conservative government. Finally in a position of virtually unchecked power after decades in the political wilderness, modern conservatives have failed quickly and utterly at the most basic responsibilities of governing, leaving our nation weaker and our people less prosperous, less safe and less free.
Seduced by the temptations of power, these movement ideologues also quickly came to believe that the rules of our democracy did not apply to them. The result is one of the farthest-reaching episodes of corruption and criminal investigations into a governing party in our history.
To fully appreciate the State of the Union, we need a deep understanding of the conservative movement and its rise to power. Jumpstarted a little more than fifty years ago by William F. Buckley’s National Review, the conservatives began their long march to power by investing billions of dollars in a modern infrastructure to combat the entrenched position of progressives in government. They used this infrastructure – think tanks, for-profit media, superior and innovative forms of electioneering – to defeat an aging progressive movement, and now have more power than at any time since the 1920s.
In recent years America has learned what life is like under a true conservative government. With near absolute power, conservatives have pursued their agenda with little compromise or input from progressives. The latest chapter of the great conservative story – the Bush years – may have been one of political victories, but it has also been one of disastrous governance. The broad and deep failures of the Bush government should cause all Americans to reappraise the virtue of this grand conservative experiment, recognizing that even after 50 years and untold billions of dollars, they have yet to come up with a true alternative to 20th century progressive government -- which did so much good, for so long.
....The next chapter in the story of conservatism has yet to be written. Will they learn from their mistakes, work with the Democrats, and fashion a bipartisan approach to our challenges? Or do they recede deeper into their fantasies, continue to wage war against all imagined enemies domestic and foreign, and continue down the current path of drift and decline?
It is too early to tell how this next chapter will unfold. We all know which path would be best for America at this challenging time. We at NDN pledge to do everything we can to extend our hand to members of both parties interested in getting past these disappointing years, cleaning up the mess and working together to craft a better future for our nation.
As NDN has written in recent weeks, it is our hope that the sheer magnitude of the administration’s failures will enable responsible members of both parties to wrest control of our government from the conservative ideologues and begin the work of ushering in a more constructive era. NDN and its allies helped to produce successful government in the 1990s. We left the world at peace, the budget in surplus, and the country in unprecedented prosperity. Our hope is that as we lay out a better agenda for our great and good nation, we will begin with the one approach that worked so well in recent years – the governing approach of the modern Democratic Party.
Coming back to today, it is remarkable to note just how much leaders of both parties, and the American people, are fighting to end this disappointing era and usher in a new and better one for our nation. In November, the American people gave much greater governing responsibility to the Democrats, a party that governed responsibly, and effectively, when last in power. They elected the first woman ever to be Speaker, and Nancy Pelosi now stands as the highest ranking woman in the history of American government. On Election Day, Americans supported Democratic Congressional candidates over Republicans 54% to 42%, one of the strongest performances by Democrats in any election over the last two generations. And that support continues, with overwhelming public support for the Congressional Democrat’s agenda, and their leaders, especially Speaker Pelosi. In the recent success of the 100 Hours plan in the House, dozens of Republicans broke from the orthodoxy of the Bush years, and supported core Democratic initiatives like raising the minimum wage and providing funds for stem cell research. At the same time, the President’s polls numbers have hit record lows, and are similar to Nixon’s just before his resignation in 1974.
But nowhere is the rush to repudiate the Bush years more evident than in what has happened in response to the President's “stay the course plus” strategy for Iraq. The Joint Chiefs of Staff opposed the plan to send 20,000 additional troops to Baghdad, without a clearly defined mission. The bipartisan Iraq Study Group opposed the plan, advocating instead for regional negotiations and an eventual drawdown of troop levels. All leading Democrats and some prominent Republicans opposed the plan, and let the President know prior to his January 10th announcement. The country now opposes this escalation plan by a 2 to 1 margin, and that support is dropping. In a new Washington Post - ABC Poll out this morning, when asked who they trust more to handle our occupation of Iraq, the American people choose the Democrats 60% to 33%.
In the Senate, there is now Republican competition for how to best repudiate their President, with such prominent Senators as Hagel, Warner and Collins all debating the details of what will be a remarkable Senate resolution later this week. In a new interview out this morning, Senator John McCain, the chief architect of the new strategy, publicly rips into Vice President Dick Cheney for his management of all things Iraq. Even in the go-along, get-along House, the new GOP leader John Boehner is asking for reports from the President every 30 days so they can track the progress, or lack thereof, in Iraq.
We should also consider the early start of the 2008 Presidential contest – on both sides – to be another manifestation of the almost desperate need the country has to put the Bush era behind us. Candidates in both parties are racing out there, faster than ever before, and in great numbers. They sense, as good politicians, an opportunity to fill the space left by the Bush collapse. They are quickly deploying a new set of media and technology tools that will bring them closer to the emerging electorate of the 21st century. Along with the new Congress, their voices are defining the next debate, a debate that will be dominated by how to best clean up the mess left by conservatives, and to tackle the many challenges left unmet. This is a debate our network will, I hope, have an important role in shaping.
While we have many years of work and difficult decisions ahead of us, we should take comfort that our nation has taken decisive action that will help us meet the daunting challenges of our time. The American people have wisely repudiated a corrupt and failed governing party, rejected the President’s misguided foreign policy, welcomed a new set of Congressional leaders with fresh ideas and a deep commitment to governing, and encouraged Presidential hopefuls of both parties to jump in early, so their voices can be added to the consequential debates of today.
So, while the nation still faces great challenges, together, we are poised to take the important and difficult steps necessary to meet them. And for that reason alone, the state of our Union is stronger and better than it was when the President last spoke to us a year ago.
We wrote earlier today about the minimum wage in the Senate. Our allies MoveOn and ACORN are rallying progressives to lobby their Senators to pass a clean version of the minimum wage. More info below.
A bill to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 per hour to $7.25 over two years has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and is likely to be voted on in the U.S Senate tomorrow (Wednesday). Instead of just passing an increase in the minimum wage, some Senators are talking about giving away billions in unneeded tax breaks to businesses, ending protections for the 40-hour work week, freezing wages for tipped workers and even creating a line item veto for the President.
Please use the toll-free ACORN Hotline (866-888-9292) today to tell your Senators to SUPPORT an increase in the minimum wage and OPPOSE amendments that would delay a wage increase or hurt workers. Or click here to send your Senators an email.
ACORN chapters around the country are staging events and making calls to urge Senators to vote for a long-overdue wage increase without any amendments that would hurt workers or our communities.
Millions of hard working families have waited 10 years for a raise and deserve a fair minimum wage NOW. Please call your Senators today.
Last week, Speaker Pelosi and the House of Representatives wrapped up their historic '100 Hours' push, passing eight key measures on the economy, health care, clean energy and democracy. And they even did it with 13 hours to spare.1
Now it's on to the Senate, where corporate lobbyists are going all-out to stop these popular reforms by attaching 'poison pill' amendments and pushing Republicans to filibuster.
The first big fight is on raising the minimum wage with a vote expected in as little as 48 hours—and the dirty tricks have already started. We need to contact our senators today, urging them to pass a "clean" minimum wage bill and resist right-wing attempts to dilute the 100 hours package.
(Just ask the operator for your Senators by name).
Most of the 100 Hours initiatives are too popular for Bush to veto. So the Republican plan is to bottle them up in the Senate by adding amendments that Democrats won't be able to support. The minimum wage vote is the first test of this "poison pill" strategy—that's why we have to draw the line here and now.
While it's not yet certain which amendments opponents will try to attach, likely options include:
Giving Bush an unprecedented 'line item veto' over the federal budget
Dramatically weakening overtime protection for workers
Even reducing the minimum wage for waiters and waitresses, hotel maids and other laborers who depend on tips
It's critical that every senator hear from their constituents in the next few days, urging them to fight hard to pass a "clean" minimum wage hike and support the other 100 hours programs without poison pill amendments like these.
We always knew that electing a new Congress was only the first step toward actually making this country more just, peaceful and humane. Now, we've all got to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work of shepherding the real changes we believe in all the way to the finish line—and that begins today.
Attorney Theodore Wells, in the opening statements of I. Lewis Libby's perjury trial, said Libby went to Vice President Dick Cheney in 2003 and complained that the White House was subtly blaming him for leaking Valerie Plame's identity to columnist Robert Novak.
"They're trying to set me up. They want me to be the sacrificial lamb,'' Wells said, recalling the conversation between Libby and Cheney. "I will not be sacrificed so Karl Rove can be protected.''
Last night, Sen. Clinton (who also supports the Chicago Bears) held the first of three conversations with voters who were able to ask her questions and see her answers live. The video of the webcast is available on her website. You can also read the transcript here.
For more information on NDN's coverage of the 2008 Presidential election, click here.
You've seen their ads in the Metro, heard the buzz, and now The Politico a new publication committed to "covering the politics of Capitol Hill and of the presidential campaign, and the business of Washington lobbying and advocacy with enterprise, style, and impact" is up on the web. Their layout is excellent and blogs look like they're going to be fun. On the negative side, I am a little disappointed that they wrote the normal boilerplate about "maverick" Senator John McCain, and let him off the hook so easily for this massive flip-flop:
With his presidential hopes tied to an administration whose Iraq policy he supports but cannot control, John McCain for the first time blamed Vice President Cheney for what McCain calls the "witch's brew" of a "terribly mishandled" war in which U.S. forces are on the verge of defeat...
...in July 2004 at a campaign rally in Lansing, Mich., McCain said he had "known and admired" Cheney for more than 20 years and described him as "one of the most capable, experienced, intelligent and steady vice presidents this country has ever had.''
But that was then and this is now, and now McCain is making clear his frustrations with the Bush administration...
Would John Kerry, or any other politician, get a free pass like that?
After passing the House with overwhelming bipartisan support, it's now the Senate's turn. Passage of the minimum wage hike in the Senate is more complicated, and there are concerns that the bill will have to be amended to include billions in small business tax cuts, in order to avoid a fillibuster. House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel is not impressed:
“Why do you need a tax break to do the right thing?..Maybe [Senator Baucus] doesn’t have a strong feel for the depth of support that this bill has…I strongly disagree that this thing would be filibustered.”
“The Tipping Point” is the name of Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book that studies when social phenomena move from outsider status to mass happenings. Though Gladwell draws on all kinds of science and research, the bottom line is that these flips are unpredictable. They just kind of happen, leaving many experts scratching their heads, trying to explain why.
We appear to have crossed a tipping point in the use of web video in politics, and it happened this past week. A lot of groundwork had been laid before now, but all the pieces seemed to come together in the space of a few days. Some of that groundwork came from pioneers in the medium who labored for a long time in obscurity. And some came from the presidential campaigns that readied themselves for their recent tech kickoffs. For whatever reasons, it’s coming together now.
The icing on the cake is the validation from the mainstream media. Many pieces and TV news segments are coming out of this, but the Washington Post did a particularly good job in giving an overview and analysis. Here’s one excerpt:
If last year was the year of the rogue videographers, the already-underway 2008 presidential campaign is likely to be remembered as the point where Web video became central to the communications strategy of every serious presidential candidate.
Playing defense is only one use of Web video. Equally important, the candidates and their staffs see Web-based video as an inexpensive and potentially significant tool for telling their campaign story without the filters of the traditional media.
Call it the YouTube effect, and it is only growing.