NDN Blog

Baghdad (and Moktada al-Sadr) Calling

Something earth shattering happened in Baghdad yesterday, the US Army took orders from Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki and moved all US troops out of East and Central Baghdad, giving up on the search for a kidnapped American soldier.  Those troops had been holding radical Shiite Cleric Moktada al-Sadr's militia under siege in Sadr City, while conducting manhunts. 

The flow of events could not be clearer.  An American soldier was kidnapped by al-Sadr's anti-American insurgent militia; US troops did the right thing and sealed off his powerbase to apply pressure on al-Sadr; al-Sadr declared a general strike and pressured PM Maliki; with only token US consultation Maliki ordered US troops to abandon their positions, and US commanders followed those orders.

That means that the third attempt this year to secure Baghdad has ended in failure and it has been met with silence from the White House.  President Bush won't even stand up to the Iraqi Prime Minister, and his weakness and lack of a plan is putting American troops at risk.  But don't take my word for it, read Andrew Sullivan's take on this historic failure of leadership. 

7 Sad Attempts to Exploit the Immigration Issue

Great job by TNR cataloguing the Top Seven Worst Anti-Immigration Campaign Ads.  The common thread between all these ads is that they are all run by or in support of Republican candidates.  It'll be interesting to see how many of these candidates lose on election day.  As NDN and our allies have been arguing, demonizing Hispanics doesn't take anybody to the electoral promised land.  Watch some of what we're up against: 

And my favorite.

Fixing the Broken Branch

The Brookings Institute held an excellent event yesterday, with Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein (authors of the recently published The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track) along with former Republican Congressman Vin Weber.  The event was moderated by Washington Post columnist EJ Dionne.

Rather then the usual bellyaching about the abysmal state of the legislative branch (although there was some of that) Mann and Ornstein diagnosed the problems and laid out steps that could be taken right now, or at least November 8th.

Some of the key points about where Congress has gone wrong:

-Congress is historically bad right now.  Congress is Article 1 of the Constitution (the longest article) and more time was spent on it then anything else worked on in Philadelphia.  Congress can and should be the lynchpin of our Democracy, instead it is a shadow of what the founding fathers intended.

-Congress is no longer a transformative body, but a parliamentary one that is limited to acting on ideas and initiatives that come from a tightly controlled leadership or, more often, the Executive branch.

-The endless fundraising, travel, campaigning and abandonment of rules and norms has led to short sessions, perfunctory committee and subcommittee review, much less minority party involvement and most disturbingly, the end of the traditions of deliberation, debate and amendment. 

-We are in the midst of maybe the most aggressive exertion of Presidential power in America's history, which would be fine if Congress would act in its own self-interest and provide checks and balances.  Unfortunately, party loyalty and ideology have resulted in a Congress that subordinates itself to the President, threatening our entire system of Government.

After hearing all this, I agreed with Orenstein when he said "16% of Americans approve of this Congress' performance.  All I want to know is, what medicines are those 16% taking?"

Fortunately, Orenstein, Mann and Weber gave us a look into what they would tell Nancy Pelosi to do to fix some of the most pressing problems:   

-Start with lobbying and ethics reform with teeth, to restore trust in the system.  And follow that with, as Republican Vin Weber said, "things that will make Republican squirm," like immigration reform and the minimum wage, which enjoy bipartisan support. 

-Ornstein was optimistic about Nancy Pelosi as Speaker saying that she would be "Speaker of the whole House" not "Speaker of the majority of the majority" like Hastert.

-The really gutsy thing to do would be to return to the rules and be willing to lose occasionally, by ending Republican practices like holding votes open all night to marshal one vote majorities, and allowing meaningful debate and reform again. 

-Pelosi should consult with Republicans, hold monthly meetings just to get talking again.  Weber used the language of armed conflict, calling this a "confidence building measure," showing just how bad bipartisan relations are on the Hill.

-Finally, the language of brinksmanship has to go.  Statements like Bush's recent line about a win for the terrorists being a win for the Democrats increases polarization and makes reform that much less likely.

El periodico el New York Times dice que el muro fronterizo es una mala idea

NDN's Hispanic Strategy Center sends regular updates to Spanish language media outlets about the issues and campaigns that impact their communities. The releases are reprinted in their entirety on our blog for our Spanish speaking readers, and you can read the latest below.

El Centro de Estrategia Hispana del NDN les envía este editorial del New York Times sobre el muro fronterizo. El editorial dice que el muro reemplazó cualquier estrategia integral que tenía el Partido Republicano para resolver el problema de inmigración. Dice que desafortunadamente, el Partido Republicano se dejó manipular por la histeria y el miedo que tenían varios en su partido en defender una política sana, justa, integral y verdadera, lo cual hubiese sido el proyecto de ley de los senadores McCain y Kennedy. En vez, el Partido Republicano y ahora el Presidente Bush han confirmado que solo desean arreglar sus problemas políticos internos acudiendo a lo peor de la política humana - el miedo y el deseo de culpar a un grupo en particular - los inmigrantes - por todos los males que sufre nuestro país.

George Will on George Allen

George Will is my kind of Conservative. And this is a lovely piece of writing. More generally, it is such good news that Jim Webb seems to be ahead. I repeat: Jim Webb is ahead. Anyone in the NDN community who can support his campaign shoud do so. He ran a positive campaign. He ran on the issues. He will be an asset to the Dems in the House on security for a generation. And we will all feel awful if we wake next wednesday and find he lost by a couple of hundred votes.

But Allen, who makes no secret of finding life as a senator tedious, is fighting ferociously for another term, a fate from which his Democratic opponent, Jim Webb, is close to rescuing him. As a result, Allen is dabbling in literary criticism. He has read, or someone has read for him, at least some of Webb's six fine novels, finding therein sexual passages that have caused Allen -- he of the football metaphors, cowboy regalia and Copenhagen smokeless tobacco -- to blush like a fictional Victorian maiden and fulminate like an actual Victorian man, Anthony Comstock, the 19th-century scourge of sin who successfully agitated for New York and federal anti-obscenity statutes and is credited with the destruction of 160 tons of naughty printed matter and pictures.

Responding to Kerry: A desperate act, a failed government, a new era

Within several hours of John Kerry's slip of the tongue, the President of the United States, the leader of the free world, found time to rush to the mikes to somehow, perhaps, to change the subject from how badly they've botched just about everything. 

As James Carville said "Kerry may have blown a joke.  Bush has blown a war."

I'm not really worried about the Kerry remark.  Yes the right-wing spin machine will grab and toss it hard into the debate.  Yes the news organizations will oblige, and pick it up for a day or so.  But at the end of the day, the uncommon good sense of the common people will prevail.  For they have already decided that this election will not be about nothing, but will be about the future of our country. 

The people have already come to believe that the nation has gone off track.  That our foreign policy has failed.  That our occupation of Iraq needs a new path.  That Bin Laden is still on the loose, and Al Qaeda is growing again.  That Katrina showed we are not ready.  That we cannot balance our books, and borrow too much from abroad. That it has become harder to get ahead.  That college has become too expensive, health insurance too uncertain, retirement an extraordinary struggle.  That global climate change has turned from science fiction to fact, and that we have done nothing to lessen our dependence on foreign energy sources.   That the governing party has become too corrupt, and more concerned about their power than America's success. 

The American people understand that this is a serious time, one where important choices must be made.  They are looking for firm, honest, leadership.  The President of the United States, in his insistence that Iraq is doing fine, that the economy is strong and that Democrats are not to be trusted is only serving to remind the American people how tired they've grown of the Republican's commitment to politics over governing; and will in these final days do what is necessary to usher in a new and better era for the great country we love.

More Writing on the Wall: Google buys a startup of collaborative wikis

We can see now that Google is going big time into social software, the area that rival search engine Yahoo! had been leading in. Google just announced that they are buying Jotspot, a leading company helping popularize wikis, or software that allows many, many people to write and edit on the same document.

Wikis have yet to go mainstream, but they are proving to be very useful among more techie crowds. It allows people from all over the world to easily work on common projects, such as an attempt to create a bottom-up encyclopedia, or wikipedia.

Google’s purchase will give a boost to popularize the tools. Jotspot itself was known for making wikis much more user friendly, by adopting many of the conventions that people are used to in word processing programs like Microsoft Word. The two together will help spread the word.

Not long ago a good rule of thumb was that Google relied more on advanced technology in their offerings, while Yahoo! focused more on user input and social software. Yahoo made some early purchases, like that of Flickr, the photo-sharing company, that started to stake out that turf. But now Google is jumping on the bandwagon with its recent acquisition of YouTube and now Jotspot. The trend is becoming clear….

Peter Leyden

Happy Halloween from all at NDN

(Via Kos.)

The Republican Plan for Victory in Iraq

On the stump these days the President says his Party is trying to win the "war" in Iraq.  Last week they offered a new "plan," which even the Iraqi PM called a political stunt.  Remarkably this new plan includes no political talks, no attempts to work through the political disagreements driving a great deal of the current unrest.  Of course, this new plan focuses almost entirely on how we will better deploy force, with more American troops in the short term and eventually a turning over security responsibilities to the Iraqi military and police.  

This continued emphasis on force, already discredited, is further so in the Post today as local politics has already eliminated the reliability of one of the two pillars of the new "plan," the Iraqi police:

..."BAGHDAD -- The signs of the militias are everywhere at the Sholeh police station.

Posters celebrating Moqtada al-Sadr, head of the Mahdi Army militia, dot the building's walls. The police chief sometimes remarks that Shiite militias should wipe out all Sunnis. Visitors to this violent neighborhood in the Iraqi capital whisper that nearly all the police officers have split loyalties.

And then one rainy night this month, the Sholeh police set up an ambush and killed Army Cpl. Kenny F. Stanton Jr., a 20-year-old budding journalist, his unit said. At the time, Stanton and other members of the unit had been trailing a group of Sholeh police escorting known Mahdi Army members.

"How can we expect ordinary Iraqis to trust the police when we don't even trust them not to kill our own men?" asked Capt. Alexander Shaw, head of the police transition team of the 372nd Military Police Battalion, a Washington-based unit charged with overseeing training of all Iraqi police in western Baghdad. "To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure we're ever going to have police here that are free of the militia influence."

The top U.S. military commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., predicted last week that Iraqi security forces would be able to take control of the country in 12 to 18 months. But several days spent with American units training the Iraqi police illustrated why those soldiers on the ground believe it may take decades longer than Casey's assessment.

Seventy percent of the Iraqi police force has been infiltrated by militias, primarily the Mahdi Army, according to Shaw and other military police trainers. Police officers are too terrified to patrol enormous swaths of the capital. And while there are some good cops, many have been assassinated or are considering quitting the force.

"None of the Iraqi police are working to make their country better," said Brig. Gen. Salah al-Ani, chief of police for the western half of Baghdad. "They're working for the militias or to put money in their pocket.....""

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