April 25, 2006

October Surprise

I have thought for a long time that President Bush would use a cynical ploy, an October Surprise, in order to pull out an election win this year.

Certainly, he and Karl Rove and their cohorts have done it before. Recall that, in September 2002 just before the last mid-term elections, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card was asked why the Bush administration waited until after Labor Day to try to sell the American people on military action against Iraq. Card replied, "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August.'"

The two October Surprises that I previously came up with for this year were Operation Trot Out Osama (Operation TOO) and Operation Trot Out Weapons of Mass Destruction (Operation TOWMD). I never realized, however, that Bush's fortunes would sink so low. Since last year, Bush has experienced one fiasco after another. Terry Schiavo. Hurricane Katrina. Valerie Plame. Harriet Miers. Illegal NSA wiretapping. His approval rating has declined further with each new poll. His agenda is stalled or nonexistent. Remember his plan to privatize Social Security? DOA. Remember his phony Medicare prescription drug plan, the one that provides billions to pharmaceutical companies and keeps drug prices higher by outlawing group negotiation for better prices and drug imports from Canada? Seniors are upset at the confusing array of choices, the lack of guidance, and the upcoming deadline. And most Americans are incensed at the price of gasoline, and the lack of any real solutions by Bush or the Republican leaders of Congress other than the usual proposals which would only continue our oil addiction and add to the oil companies' coffers. As a result, Bush's rubber-stamp Republican Congress is in danger of flipping to the Democrats this November.

So now, Operation TOWMD would likely be seen as too little, too late. Voters would ask why it took so long to find the Iraqi WMD. They would ask why Bush did not permit the UN weapons inspectors to finish their job before he invaded Iraq. They might even wonder whether, at this late date, the WMD were planted. Likewise, Operation TOO could have serious backlash consequences. Voters would question why it took 4 years to capture Osama Bin Laden, and why Bush ordered U.S. troops to back off in Tora Bora, Afghanistan when they had Bin Laden cornered in November 2001, only to shift them to an invasion of Iraq, a country no one seriously claims had aynthing to do with 9/11.

So now I have set the bar higher (or is it lower?) on the October surprise for this year's Congressional election.

It's going to be Iran.

The signs are all there. The saber rattling by Bush, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and others has begun. For instance, on March 6, 2006, Rice told a Congressional Committee, "If you can take that [Iran's current behavior] and multiply it by several hundred you can imagine Iran with a nuclear weapon and the threat they would then pose to that region." A few days later, U.N. Ambassador John Bolton told ABC News Nightline, “Just like Sept. 11, only with nuclear weapons this time, that’s the threat." These warnings sound a lot like the "mushroom cloud" warnings given by Rice and others regarding Saddam Hussein in the months before Bush invaded Iraq. Meanwhile, Bush administration officials are turning down opportunities to meet with Iranian officials face-to-face to try a diplomatic solution. And it has been reported that the U.S. military is planning a first strike attack against Iran with nuclear weapons.

Ironically, the false dangers we were fed about Iraq are actually true with respect to Iran. Iraq had no WMD. Iraq had no links to 9/11. Saddam Hussein was a tyrant in a box. We had him hemmed in with no-fly zones and economic sanctions. It was an oil-producing country run by secular Bathists who did not try to export radical Islam. Now, Iraq is in a civil war, and could end up with a radical Islamist terrorist government.

Like that of Iran.

Unlike Iraq, Iran admits having a nuclear program. Unlike Iraq, Iran is the world's largest sponsor of terrorism. Iran funds and sponsors the Hezbollah, which is responsible for numerous terrorist acts, including the first major terrorist act against U.S. personnel, the 1983 truck bombing of our Marine barracks in Lebanon that killed over 240 Marines. Unlike Iraq, Iran is run by radical Islamic clerics. Unlike Iraq, Iran's leaders are not in a box, and they are not subject to no-fly zones or sanctions.

Additionally, Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has promised repeatedly to wipe Israel off the map. Whether or not one is a supporter of Israel, it's a given that attacking Israel, or Kuwait or Pakistan or any other country in the region for that matter, would set off a war involving the U.S.

Therefore, unlike Iraq, Iran really does present a danger to the Middle East region and the U.S. However, this has been the case for as long as Bush has been President, and he has let the Iran danger grow while expending energy, resources, lives and treasure in Iraq. The sad result is, we don't have the troops to use in Iran, because they are all bogged down in Iraq. Republicans in Congress and President Bush are hustling to try to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq before the November elections. Will these same Republicans, many of whom are running for re-election, approve sending these brave young men and women right to Iran? Will the rest of the country, at least half of whom are Democrats or independents, support another war in another Middle East country beginning with the letter "I"?

It is also tragic that Bush's promotion and handling of a phony war in Iraq has caused him to lose his credibility, which is crucial to convey future real dangers to the American people, such as those which may exist in Iran. Will anyone even believe Bush if he starts talking about WMD and mushroom clouds again?

But that won't stop Bush from racheting up his rhetoric and maybe even resorting to military action, such as troop deployments or air strikes against military or nuclear facilities in Iran sometime after August this year, coincidentally as the mid-term congressional election approaches. If Bush and the GOP are still way down in the polls by then, don't be surprised by Bush's October Surprise.

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April 17, 2006

On Illegal Wiretapping, Bruce is Fein

In all likelihood, few people outside the D.C. Beltway know who Bruce Fein is. Inside the Beltway, however, Fein is a sometimes influential figure. This is one of those times. I first heard about Bruce Fein while working at the Federal Communications Commission as an intern in the mid-1980s. Fein was the FCC's General Counsel at the time, and part of the cadre of right-wing ideologues that Ronald Reagan brought in to run and staff the FCC and other federal agencies. Actually, Fein was first brought into the Department of Justice, serving in the antitrust division (where officials decide whether to allow companies to merge), and then as an associate deputy attorney general. The philosophy of these officials and regulators was deregulation, which in earlier times was known as laissez-faire. As we all learned in junior high school, this theory declares that government should get out of the way of private business, and let markets regulate themselves. It's the same theory practiced by the ideologues running the federal government today, the only difference being that Reagan and his ideologues admitted, rather than hid, what they intended to do.

Another conservative principle practiced by the Reaganites was that the Federal Government should not intrude on the privacy of Americans except in the limited cases spelled out in the Constitution. We heard this principle espoused by Republicans when Bill Clinton was President. It was used to criticize the actions of his attorney General, Janet Reno, in numerous cases, including Ruby Ridge, Waco (where conservatives complained of "jack-booted thugs" kicking down doors), and "leetle" Elian Gonzales. Now, with Republicans in control of all branches of government, these conservative criticisms have fallen silent.

Bruce Fein cuts a distinctive figure. In a city of nerds, he is the nerdiest. He is small and slight, with thick glasses and a high, squeaky voice. Fein is, however, respected as a conservative scholar, an intellectual of the right.

I disagreed with Mr. Fein's philosphy from the start. He has popped up from time to time on the tv news channels or at congressional hearings, espousing his consistently right-wing views. He has served at the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and as a columnist at the Washington Times, all right-wing institutions. He supported the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. He has supported, and appears on various lists as being available to the media to support, President Bush's Supreme Court nominations, including Samuel Alito.

Then recently, a funny thing happened. When the news broke of President Bush's warrantless NSA wiretapping, and in the months since, Fein has appeared numerous times on television and in print, speaking out forcefully against the wiretapping. For example, in a January 26, 2006, Foxnews.com column, he stated, "once you're targeting an American citizen, then you need a warrant." That is precisely counter to the position taken by Bush and his Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales. More pointedly, he has appeared as a witness at Congressional hearings regarding the warrantless wiretapping, and each time has criticized President Bush sharply. For example:

--at the Democratic House Juciciary Committee hearing on Jan. 20, 2006 (held in the basement of the Rayburn House Office Building because the Republicans who control the committees refuse to hold real oversight hearings on this administration, and refuse to give Democrats even a real committee room to hold their own hearings):

"The founding fathers understood that men were not angels and that "trust me" was not a good enough protection for our civil liberties. . . . One of the reasons why the issue is so critical is that we will be in a state of permanent hostilities against terrorism for our lifetime and for the indefinite future. So the claimed authorities of the President are not temporary. They will not go away. . . . The implausibility of the President's claim [of authority to wiretap U.S. citizens with no warrant from the FISA Court pursuant to the FISA Act of 1978] seems to be self-evident. . . . I don't think anything more needs to be said about the fact that he is violating FISA."

--at the March 31, 2006 Senate Judiciary Committee regarding S. 398, the resolution by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) to Censure President Bush for violating the Constitution and the FISA Act by authorizing the NSA warrantless wiretapping:

"I am grateful to express my support for Senate Resolution 398. . . . President Bush's intent was to keep the program secret from Congress and to avoid political and legal accountability indefinitely. Secrecy of that sort makes checks and balances a farce."

What is so unusual about Fein's statements and his appearances criticizing Bush's actions at Congressional hearings prompted by Democrats is that Fein is not acting as a good Republican foot soldier, supporting every action by President Bush, as do so many of Fein's fellow Republicans. Apparently, Fein really does believe in the rule of law, the separation of powers, and the Constitution, principles that Bush and other Republicans give lip service to but only follow when it suits them. I'm sure I will continue to disagree with Bruce Fein on nearly every other issue, but apparently, on this issue, Fein has the refreshing integrity to act and speak forcefully in accordance with his conservative ideological principles, no matter where the political chips may fall.
And that's just Fein with me.

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April 04, 2006

Gas Mileage Update

In my November 14, 2005 post entitled "Eat Here and Get Gas," I wrote that "Americans are addicted to oil." In order to try to stem this addiction, I joined many others in calling upon Congress to make modest increases in the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for cars and light trucks (SUVs), since these standards have been stuck in place for years while fuel efficiency technology has improved. I also called for Congress to close the crazy loophole that gives tax breaks to owners of the largest, heaviest, most gas-guzzling SUVs.

Since then, President Bush declared in his January 31, 2006 State of the Union address, "Americans are addicted to oil." I am happy to report that, last week, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, part of the Transportation Department, announced a modest increase in CAFE standards for SUVs, from 22.5 mpg to 24 mpg, by 2011. While this is a very small increase over 5 years, at least it's a step in the right direction. Whether our federal government officials are seeing the light, or whether they are merely seeing an upcoming election day, at least they are doing something, finally, to attack our nation's oil addiction from the consumption side. Perhaps they recognize at long last that it will be impossible simply to drill our way to energy independence.

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