Obama, Clinton May Skip Early Debates

What if the media-political complex announced a presidential debate, hired a hall, sent out invitations, lined up 200 folding chairs for the press, and then the major candidates said: “Stick it in your ear. We’re not coming.”

That could happen this year for one good reason: Major candidates are complaining that too many states are planning too many debates too early.

Early debates are helpful to second- and third-tier candidates because those candidates need publicity.

But what do front-runners get from debates? Nothing but risk. They already have publicity. To the top tier, early debates are a negative, an ordeal, a chance for the rest of the pack to nip them in their rear ends.


Wash. initiative would require married couples to have kids

OLYMPIA, Wash. – An initiative filed by proponents of same-sex marriage would require heterosexual couples to have kids within three years or else have their marriage annulled.

Initiative 957 was filed by the Washington Defense of Marriage Alliance. That group was formed last summer after the state Supreme Court upheld Washington’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Under the initiative, marriage would be limited to men and women who are able to have children. Couples would be required to prove they can have children in order to get a marriage license, and if they did not have children within three years, their marriage would be subject to annulment.


G.O.P. Senators Block Debate on Iraq Policy

Republicans on Monday blocked Senate debate on a bipartisan resolution opposing President Bush’s troop buildup in Iraq, leaving in doubt whether the Senate would render a judgment on what lawmakers of both parties described as the paramount issue of the day.

The decision short-circuited what had been building as the first major Congressional challenge to President Bush over his handling of the war since Democrats took control of Congress last month, and left each party blaming the other for frustrating debate on a topic that is likely to influence the 2008 presidential and Congressional races.

At issue is a compromise resolution drawn up chiefly by Senator John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia, that says the Senate disagrees with President Bush’s plan to build up troops and calls for American forces to be kept out of sectarian violence in Iraq.

The deadlock came after Democrats refused a proposal by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, that would have cleared the way for a floor fight on the Warner resolution in return for votes on two competing Republican alternatives that were more supportive of the president.


U.S. Set to Begin a Vast Expansion of DNA Sampling

The Justice Department is completing rules to allow the collection of DNA from most people arrested or detained by federal authorities, a vast expansion of DNA gathering that will include hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, by far the largest group affected.

The new forensic DNA sampling was authorized by Congress in a little-noticed amendment to a January 2006 renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, which provides protections and assistance for victims of sexual crimes. The amendment permits DNA collecting from anyone under criminal arrest by federal authorities, and also from illegal immigrants detained by federal agents.

The goal, justice officials said, is to make the practice of DNA sampling as routine as fingerprinting for anyone detained by federal agents, including illegal immigrants. Until now, federal authorities have taken DNA samples only from convicted felons.


US war objector pleads not guilty at court-martial

A U.S. Army officer who refused an order to deploy to Iraq, pleaded not guilty on Monday to several charges at a court-martial that calls into question the right of officers to speak out against the war.

First Lt. Ehren Watada, 28, faces a charge of missing movements when he refused to ship out to Iraq with his brigade last summer, and two charges of conduct unbecoming an officer for statements criticizing the war as illegal and immoral.

Watada, whose supporters say he is the first Army officer to publicly refuse to deploy to Iraq, could face up to four years in prison if he is found guilty on all charges.

“I had no other choice but to refuse the order,” he said.


Bush and Cheney’s dirty secrets

The former Chief of European Operations for the CIA official blows the whistle on bogus intelligence, covert kidnappings and the alleged torture of terror suspects in an interview with Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine.
Some excerpts:

…never before have I seen the manipulation of intelligence that has played out since Bush took office. As chief of Europe I had a front-row seat from which to observe the unprecedented drive for intelligence justifying the Iraq war.

The administration wanted to make the case for war with Iraq. They needed a tangible thing — they needed the German stuff. They couldn’t go to war based just on the fact that they wanted to change the Middle East. They needed to have something threatening to which they were reacting.

From the perspective of the White House, it was smart to blur the lines about what was acceptable and what was not in the war on terrorism. It meant that whenever someone was overzealous in some dark interrogation cell, President Bush and his entourage could blame someone else. The rendition teams are drawn from paramilitary officers who are brave and colorful. They are the men who went into Baghdad before the bombs and into Afghanistan before the army. If they didn’t do paramilitary actions for a living, they would probably be robbing banks. Perhaps the Bush administration deliberately created a gray area on renditions.


Christianists on the March

After two years reporting on the movement for his new book “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America,” Chris Hedges, who graduated from seminary at Harvard Divinity School and worked for many years as a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, warns that the Christian Right is the most dangerous mass movement in American history:

Dr. James Luther Adams, my ethics professor at Harvard Divinity School, told his students that when we were his age – he was then close to 80 – we would all be fighting the “Christian fascists.”

The warning, given 25 years ago, came at the moment Pat Robertson and other radio and television evangelists began speaking about a new political religion that would direct its efforts toward taking control of all institutions, including mainstream denominations and the government. Its stated goal was to use the United States to create a global Christian empire. This call for fundamentalists and evangelicals to take political power was a radical and ominous mutation of traditional Christianity. It was hard, at the time, to take such fantastic rhetoric seriously, especially given the buffoonish quality of those who expounded it. But Adams warned us against the blindness caused by intellectual snobbery. The Nazis, he said, were not going to return with swastikas and brown shirts. Their ideological inheritors had found a mask for fascism in the pages of the Bible.



Related [from Harper's Magazine]:

Cheney’s Fund Manager Attacks … Cheney

The oil-based energy policies usually associated with Vice President Dick Cheney have just come under scathing attack. There’s nothing remarkable about that, of course — except the person doing the attacking.

Step forward, Jeremy Grantham — Cheney’s own investment manager. “What were we thinking?’ Grantham demands in a four-page assault on U.S. energy policy mailed last week to all his clients, including the vice president.

Titled “While America Slept, 1982-2006: A Rant on Oil Dependency, Global Warming, and a Love of Feel-Good Data,” Grantham’s philippic adds up to an extraordinary critique of U.S. energy policy over the past two decades.

“Successive U.S. administrations have taken little interest in either oil substitution or climate change,” he writes, “and the current one has even seemed to have a vested interest in the idea that the science of climate change is uncertain.”

Yet “there is now nearly universal scientific agreement that fossil fuel use is causing a rise in global temperatures,” he writes. “The U.S. is the only country in which environmental data is steadily attacked in a well-funded campaign of disinformation (funded mainly by one large oil company).”

As for Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Richard Lindzen, who appears everywhere to question global warming, Grantham mocks him as “the solitary plausible academic [the skeptics] can dig up, out of hundreds working in the field.”

Gore in ’08?

In a recent speech, former Al Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile “strongly implied” that her former boss could be “waiting to make a dramatic entrance into the 2008 presidential race, especially if he wins an Oscar next month. Said Brazile: “‘I believe he is ready for this moment. He is a good leader. I think he can be one of the few leaders who can bring this country together.”

She acknowledged it will be a tough decision for Gore, noting Kerry’s announcement last week to bow out of the race. Gore believes he is now doing his life’s work, Brazile said. However, she conceded that Gore might be able to do more about global climate change from inside the Oval Office.


Iraq at Risk of Further Strife, Intelligence Report Warns

A new National Intelligence Estimate depicts an Iraq involved in a multi-faceted struggle among religious groups and sects and says that without a sharp reversal in the violence and changes among the Shiite, Sunni and Kurd leadership, the situation could further deteriorate.

The estimate, which represents the views of all elements of the intelligence community, presents a much grimmer picture of the situation in Iraq than the Bush administration has acknowledged in the past.

Click to read the full National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (pdf)

The Oil-Addicted Ayatollahs

There may be only one thing dumber than getting addicted to consuming oil as a country — and that is getting addicted to selling it. Because getting addicted to selling oil can make your country really stupid, and if the price of oil suddenly drops, it can make your people really revolutionary. That’s the real story of the rise and fall of the Soviet Union — it overdosed on oil — and it could end up being the real story of Iran, if we’re smart.

…The shah used Iran’s oil windfall after 1973 to push major modernization onto a still traditional Iranian society. The social backlash produced the ayatollahs of 1979. The ayatollahs used Iran’s oil windfall to lock themselves into power.

In 2005, Bloomberg.com reported, Iran’s government earned $44.6 billion from oil and spent $25 billion on subsidies — for housing, jobs, food and 34-cents-a-gallon gasoline — to buy off interest groups. Iran’s current populist president has further increased the goods and services being subsidized.

So if oil prices fall sharply again, Iran’s regime will have to take away many benefits from many Iranians, as the Soviets had to do. For a regime already unpopular with many of its people, that could cause all kinds of problems and give rise to an Ayatollah Gorbachev. We know how that ends. “Just look at the history of the Soviet Union,” Professor Mau said.

In short, the best tool we have for curbing Iran’s influence is not containment or engagement, but getting the price of oil down in the long term with conservation and an alternative-energy strategy. Let’s exploit Iran’s oil addiction by ending ours.

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WashPo columnists sound off on the Libby case

Cheney’s Fingerprint?

The revelation yesterday that Scooter Libby acknowledged in November 2003 that he and Vice President Cheney may have talked in July about whether to tell reporters that Valerie Plame worked at the CIA further bolsters the theory that Cheney may be the prime force behind this whole sordid tale.  According to multiple reports, Cheney was talking about how to discredit Plame’s husband, Joseph Wilson, who was making trouble with his suggestion that the administration manipulated intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq.

A Failed Coverup

Why was the White House so nervous in the summer of 2003 about the CIA’s reporting on alleged Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Niger to build a nuclear bomb? The trial record suggests a simple answer: The White House was worried that the CIA would reveal that it had been pressured in 2002 and early 2003 to support administration claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and that in the Niger case, the CIA had tried hard to resist this pressure. The machinations of Cheney, Libby and others were an attempt to weave an alternative narrative that blamed the CIA.

Democracy-building is failing in Iraq, but it could work in Iran…

In his book The Persian Puzzle, Kenneth Pollack aptly frames the problem of Iran as a “race between two clocks.” One clock counts down the time until Iran enriches enough uranium to build a nuclear weapon. The other ticks off the hours remaining for its corrupt and dysfunctional clerical regime. The danger confronting the United States, Israel, and the world is that the alarm on the first clock seems set to go off before the alarm on the second.

A sensible way to think about policy toward Iran might be to consider ways to reverse the order—to stretch out the nuclear timetable while accelerating the demise of an Iranian government bent on proliferation. ..

At the moment, the Bush administration’s policy seems to be taken straight from the self-sabotage playbook—quite a thick volume when it comes to America’s relations with Iran. Were our goal to persuade the Iranian regime to hasten its nuclear race while binding it more closely to a weary and discontented populace, it’s hard to see how we could be advancing it more effectively.


Biden comes out swinging (and gets himself in trouble)

To hear him tell it, Hillary Clinton’s position is calibrated, confusing and “a very bad idea.” John Edwards doesn’t know what he’s talking about and is pushing a recipe for Armageddon in the Middle East. Barack Obama is offering charming but insubstantial fluff. And all of them are playing politics…

The result of Mrs. Clinton’s position on Iraq, Mr. Biden says, would be “nothing but disaster.”

Mr. Biden is equally skeptical—albeit in a slightly more backhanded way—about Mr. Obama. “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” he said. “I mean, that’s a storybook, man.”
“I don’t think John Edwards knows what the heck he is talking about,” Mr. Biden said, when asked about Mr. Edwards’ advocacy of the immediate withdrawal of about 40,000 American troops from Iraq.


Watch Biden attempt to explain himself on last night’s Daily Show.

This is not Biden’s first ‘gaffe’ – You cannot go to a 7-11 or Dunkin Donuts unless you have a slight Indian Accent.” (youtube) and don’t forget his apology…

Franken to run for Senate in Minnesota

WASHINGTON – Comedian and radio talk show host Al Franken has decided to run for U.S. Senate in Minnesota, a senior Democratic official from Minnesota said.

The news was not unexpected. Franken has been calling members of the Minnesota congressional delegation to get their input on a run, and he announced this week that he would be leaving his show on Air America Radio on Feb. 14.

[AP News/RawStory]