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July 14, 2006


The Secret about Secrecy
Posted by Michael Signer

This is a day when you'd expect Democracy Arsenalists to  blog about Israel and Lebanon -- but I have nothing brilliant to say, other than that I'm worried because my little sister is there traveling and volunteering (but safely, we hope and pray, in Jerusalem), and that, like every non-expert, I'm simply concerned about radical instability erupting in a region that we've already done our part to destabilize. 

Perhaps due to the enormity of this story, the WaPo buried an important domestic story on page A19 today -- a recently-released GAO study of the Department of Defense's haphazard and too-frequent practice of classifying documents.  The story's lede:

The Government Accountability Office has criticized the Defense Department for sloppy management of its security classification system, including the marking as "Confidential or Secret" material that Pentagon officials acknowledged was unclassified information.

The GAO said in a report June 30 that one of the major questions raised by its study was "whether all of the information marked as classified met established criteria for classification." The GAO also found "inconsistent treatment of similar information within the same document."

Continue reading "The Secret about Secrecy" »

July 13, 2006


Cops on the Metro
Posted by Michael Signer

In the blog-as-actual-reportage vein, there were tons of transit police on the Orange Line of the D.C. Metro this morning.  By my count, there were at least eight in the Courthouse station near where I live -- three (with dogs) walking out of the stop as I entered the station, six on the platform, and then another two riding on the car next over from mine.

I guess it's either scary or secure-feeling, depending on your perspective.  I'm not sure what this means, if anything, but figured it would be worth noting.  Anyone out there notice anything similar?

Capitol Hill

National SecurityTradeoffs--Its not Just the Left Anymore
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Last month, Congress weenies got excited when the Senate unanimously voted to make supplemental spending for our ongoing wars part of the regular budget --and several House Armed Services Members agreed that this was an important discussion. This news is good and bad. Good because it will improve the oversight process (which has nearly broken down completely in the realm of national security)  Bad because, barring new revenue sources (like taxes)  we will completely bust out of our budget caps with war spending stuffed in there (it could be hundreds of billions of dollars more in coming years).  Supplemental spending is deemed emergency, so doesn't have to be offset by reductions in other federal spending.  If this comes to pass and the current gang stays in power--a distinct possibility given gerrymandered districts, sketchy voting machines and astonishingly--citizens who would continue to vote for them--we can kiss every other piece of public service and infrastructure that we take for granted goodbye. Its the government hater/public sector privateer dream. (short aside, I just received an invite  from Heritage Foundation  about "moral reconstruction" post Katrina--the blurb posits that derelict human spirit was responsible for the hurricane's aftermath. Um. No. How about a stripped and demoralized federal government staffed by fraternity cronies?)

But a new and unusual voice has thrown down the glove on national security priorities.  Rep. John Murtha, a "pro-defense" Democrat and hawk has put forward a formidable statement of priorities.  This might be the legitimizing action that will create the sort of guns vs. guns debate we've been waiting for. His July 11th letter to Capitol Hill Colleages begins:

We are spending $8 billion a month in Iraq.  That equates to 2 billion dollars a week, or 267 million dollars a day, or 11 million dollars AN HOUR.

Attached are some comparisons between what we are spending in Iraq as we "stay the course" indefinitely and what those funds could be used for instead.

Here are some of the first tradeoff items:

$33.1 billion/yr    Department of Homeland Security FY 07 budget
(4 months in Iraq)       

$10 billion (1-time)    Equipping commercial airliners with defenses against shoulder fired
(5 weeks in Iraq)        missiles    

$8.6 billion/7 years    Shortage of international aid needed to rebuild Afghanistan
(one month in Iraq)       

Read the rest of the document and dollar comparisons here .  Just as Murtha's statements on Iraq last winter changed the flavor of the debate on ending the war, this sort of document might really help jump start the discussion we need to look at real threats and resources for the post 9/11 world we're in.

July 11, 2006

Progressive Strategy

Lieberman Head-Butts Ned Lamont? (or the tragic story of an independent, principled Democrat)
Posted by Shadi Hamid

His voice is at once sonorous, didactic, and difficult to listen to for extended periods of time. He is occasionally funny. Most of the time, he is not. More proof, if proof was needed, that one can be a relentless v-chip pusher and a Democrat – simultaneously. This is an important message.

In their first and only debate, I thought for a brief moment, that Joe Lieberman was going to thrust up like a burgeoning tsunami and head-butt Ned Lamont, hater of earmarks. As Lieberman has thankfully made clear to us, he is in full support of earmarks. Oh, voters of the humble state of Connecticut, you do indeed have a choice, and a clear one. You want your freakin’ earmarks don’t you?

I like independent thinkers, so props to Lieberman for showing off his independence. “I’m not George Bush,” he assures us. I hope that puts that to rest. He is also not, presumably, Ned Lamont. Good on both counts.

Maybe it’s the slavish praise of our commander-in-chief that bothers me or his calibrated misuse of JFK’s legacy. If you care so much about liberty, there’s a few other regimes you might care to liberate on your way out, hopefully this time, without water-boarding and Rumsfeldian grandstanding.

But I have a confession to make. I have a soft-spot for people who go out of their way to destroy their favorability ratings in the name of principle. Democrats often get the wrap of being insincere flip-floppers with big ambitions but small ideas. Not Joe Lieberman. If someone’s willing to sabotage his career, legacy, and reputation for an idea, you can bet that he probably believes it. Too bad it’s the wrong idea.

July 09, 2006

Progressive Strategy

The Crux of Lieberman's Problem
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Lieberman_joe_smiling I have reluctantly gotten sucked into caring about the fate of Joe Lieberman's quest to hold on to his Senate seat.  What interests me is how the contest ties into a larger debate underway about how big the progressive tent should be when it comes to foreign policy:  where should boundaries be drawn so that we can compete in moderate and even conservative strongholds, yet still energe the base and stand for something that is clear to voters.  This is shaping up to be one of the principal dilemmas progressives will face leading up to 2008.

Reading through the transcript of Lieberman's debate last Thursday with challenger Ned Lamont, here's where I come out:  Lieberman's problem is not that he supported the Iraq invasion, nor that he thinks we need to stay in and finish the job.  He has lots of mainstream Democratic company in both those positions.   Kiss aside, his problem is also not simply being too close to Bush or disloyal to the Dems.  As he points out, he's voted the Democratic party line 90 percent of the time.

The crux of Lieberman's problem is his unwillingness to acknowledge the severity of what's happened in Iraq, and to demand accountability for it.   Iraq has now replaced 9/11 as America's "prism of pain" - - the trauma-tinged lens through which everything else is viewed.  Everyone from Chuck Hagel to Richard Holbrooke to Ret. General William Odom has judged Iraq worse than Vietnam.   Against that backdrop, its just not enough for Lieberman to quickly state that he's previously been "critical" of the Administration's post-invasion errors, and then move on to an impassioned plea about why we can't leave Iraq now. 

Continue reading "The Crux of Lieberman's Problem" »

July 07, 2006


Mexico -- A Silver Lining
Posted by Michael Signer

The coverage of the upcoming electoral stalemate in Mexico's Presidential election has an ominous tinge.  The New York Times tells us:

In the meantime, the way the candidates manage themselves and their supporters will determine whether or not this stalemate weakens or strengthens Mexico's young democracy.

After a tumultuous night in which both candidates claimed victory and held rowdy celebrations, conflicting feelings of concern rippled across a nation that is averse to political violence and that has lived through decades of electoral fraud.

Without being an expert on Mexico, I still think it's worth noting the silver lining here.  Mexico faces a test of the essential premise of the rule of law -- judicial review of political contests -- should prevail, no matter how much anxiety is provokes internally about possibilities.   And if the last two days of head-clutching are any indication, it's looking good that Mexico will take the democratic path this time around.

If Mexico -- a country that was run, dictatorially, by a single party for decades -- passes the test, it will demonstrate its ascension into the community of modern democracies.

Continue reading "Mexico -- A Silver Lining" »

July 06, 2006


Rachel Kleinfeld at TPM Cafe
Posted by Michael Signer

A quick update -- Rachel Kleinfeld, the co-founder and Director of the Truman National Security Project, is guest-blogging for Anne-Marie Slaughter over at TPM Cafe's America Abroad section for the next five weeks. 

As one of our brightest young lights in national security and foreign policy, Rachel will take great advantage of this opportunity, so check over there early and often (and I'd say that even if she didn't just blog on my recent piece for Democracy: A Journal of Ideas!).

Capitol Hill

Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld Debate: Who is a true Conservative?
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

During the Cold War,  foreign policy stopped at the water's edge.  For the most part, elected leaders, in a common cause against an ideological foe, abandoned partisanship to join a united American democratic ideal.  Well, those days are really over.  Late last week the House GOP leadership demonstrated that the water could be a reeking sewer and they'll still take off their shoes and jump right on in.

After last Thursday's  Supreme Court ruling (Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld) that rejected the Bush administration's plan to try Guantanamo detainees before military commissions, Majority Leader Boehner attacked Democrats who-- upon hearing the ruling-- praised the Rule of Law and acknowledged the importance of cautiously moving forward in the realm of post 9/11 international justice.  Boehner and the GOP echo chamber pounced-- accusing the Democrats of wanting "special rights for terrorists" while acknowledging  how this talking point would rally the conservative base for November 06.  Time to take the gloves off. There is a difference between politics and policy.  Congressional conservatives--in a fit of self-hate for their own institution-- are attacking our constitution.  Their disgraceful talking points are a one-two punch-- for in "rallying" their base, they undermine another great American institution as well--the US military.

This breed of politically partisan rhetoric is not "just politics" . There are no exuses for political talking points that rationalize threats to the  foundation of American democracy. True conservatives everywhere should read this interview  by Reagan appointee Bruce Fein as a call to take their party back.

Today's conservatives in power (as opposed to real conservatives)  love to brag about how they value the military, but the truth is they have few military values.

Continue reading "Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld Debate: Who is a true Conservative?" »

July 04, 2006


North Korea: Sticking it to Washington (and Beijing)
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Pyongyang's choice of July 4th to launch a much-anticipated and roundly discouraged test of its long-range missile capabilities, (despite having failed rather spectacularly in the first minute after launch) will go down in history as one of the more flagrant recent attempts to goad and humiliate the superpower. 

But this time there's a twist.  While the timing is unquestionably meant to provoke Washington, the move ought to attract roughly equal ire in Beijing.  First off, China now chairs the six-party talks aimed at controlling North Korea's nuclear program.  The test thus marks the failure of Beijing's highest-stakes diplomatic gambit yet in their own rise to great-power status.   

Moreover, the Chinese have, laudably, been working assiduously in recent weeks to avert the missile launch.  It was reported on Sunday that the Chinese were looking to reconvene an informal session of the six-party forum later this month.  Just yesterday China and North Korea jointly announced a planned exchange of high-level visits to, among other things, discuss the threatened missile launch.  For Kim Jong Il to have proceeded in the face of ongoing Chinese diplomatic efforts is at least as much a slap in the face to Beijing as to the US.

Apart from misery loving company, what's the significance of China being just as dissed as we are?  It's impossible to say, but a few musings:

Continue reading "North Korea: Sticking it to Washington (and Beijing)" »

July 03, 2006

Going to the Parade
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

My patriotism is of the quiet, "thank goodness I didn't move to country X when I was love-addled in my 20s" type.  I'm not much for parades, normally.  But I have a two-year old, who adores music, drums, dancing, sparkly things and flags.  And who smiles so cutely he oughta be in pictures.

All of this adds up to a date tomorrow morning with the local 4th of July parade -- which will, admittedly, have some kind of "Mad Hot Peace" float in addition to the more traditional offerings.  But I have been thinking about reasons to look forward to the parade this year, and I have come up with several.

1.  Resurgence of patriotism that is filled with uplift, rather than rage.  I cried through the trailer for the Oliver Stone 9-11 movie World Trade Center last weekend.  Then I read this article about it and cried some more.  Although I suppose one should withhold judgment until it's out, it appears to be a positive, uplifting story about Americans coming to the aid of other Americans -- about people finding personal and national redemption in themselves and their fellow Americans on a dark, dark day.  The suburban accountant who went home, put on his Marines uniform, drove to Ground Zero and walked through the rubble calling out "US Marines" and was heard by survivors.  A lapsed paramedic who dug through rubble looking for some kind of personal redemption, and found another survivor.  Both true stories, apparently.  It's time to hear more about those better angels of our American-ness, and not just the horrors unleashed by war and unclear mandates in Iraq and unfocused fear at home.  Not because we shouldn't hear about the bad stuff, b ut because we need to remember that we're capable of better.

2.  A good parade encourages the above.  Two weeks ago we got stuck in a parade in Cedar City, Utah -- a pretty small place that had shut down entirely for the occasion.  What occasion?  Their local National Guard, the 222nd, was home after 18 months in Iraq -- six months longer than planned -- without losing a single person.  The unit before them had suffered quite a few fatalities, and all the surrounding communities were ready to celebrate.  People left stores and restaurants untended to go cheer as the Guard marched by, with a band and fire trucks and a three-story-high flag.

I thought of this again the next week, when the US Congressman from that part of Utah -- apparently one of the most conservative in Congress -- survived a primary challenge from the right on immigration.  Apparently the incumbent had done sinister things like accept an award from an immigrant rights group.  "Racism and xenophobia are not Republican virtues," he said.  But, as I say, he won handily.  Would I dare suggest a connection?  No.  A good thing for our common humanity?  Yes.

3.  It's about community.  I've been trying for months now to practice what I preach and not use my bloggy pulpit to rant about divisions in the progressive community, and progressives who seem to devote their full and impressive energies to enlarging those divisions.  But it's getting me down.  So hear this:  I am one web-literate progressive who does not care what the New Republic thinks of Daily Kos, and vice versa.  I do not care why Madeleine Albright wrote a book about religion now, and not five, ten or fifty years ago.  And I really don't care very much which sect of true believers on the way ahead in Iraq you belong to.

I care whether you have good, interesting, challenging ideas, and whether you are capable of publicizing them in a way that moves our community -- and perhaps our nation -- forward and up instead of bogging us down.

So I'm going to the parade with a two-year old's sense of glee at the noise and the sparkle, and something else besides:  the knowledge that the family next to us may think that tapping our phones is just great and Jesus talks to President Bush every day.  Or they may think I'm a ghastly right-winger because I go to church and worked for Bill Clinton and once wrote something nice about Peggy Noonan.  But you know what?  As long as we're standing there with our flags, that won't matter.  They're not going to hurt me, and I'm not going to hurt them.

And that's part of what makes America great, when we are great.  The words to "America the Beautiful" get most of the rest of it.  Have a happy 4th.


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