Levees Not War
Rebuilding New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Gulf Coast.

Questions for Coastal Conservation Conversation Panel: Tonight, Aug. 20

08/20/14

RosieRiveterExperts to Discuss How to Pay for Massive Coastal Restoration Effort

We are raising our hands because we have a few questions for the distinguished panelists at the Coastal Conservation Conversation tonight, Aug. 20, at Loyola University in New Orleans (6:00–8:00 Central Standard Time, 7:00 Eastern). Click here for a campus map. Parking is available in the neighborhood and in the West Road parking garage.

The conversation will be live-streamed.

Click here to watch the talk.

Bob Marshall at The Lens reports that this morning, “the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy released a report estimating that the state’s $50 billion Master Plan for the Coast will end up costing more than $100 billion over its 50-year time frame. It arrives at that figure by adjusting for inflation over 50 years and adding the $6.2 billion cost of the Urban Water Plan for New Orleans, which proposes innovative water management techniques within the city.”

The panelists discussing how the plan can be paid for will be Mark Davis, Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy  •  John Driscoll, Corporate Planning Resources  •  Kyle Graham, Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority  •  Douglas J. Meffert, Audubon Louisiana/National Audubon Society  •  Steve Murchie, Gulf Restoration Network  •  Courtney Taylor, Environmental Defense Fund. The moderator will be John Snell of WVUE/Fox 8.  

Marshall adds, “The Tulane institute says the doubling in projected cost shouldn’t deter coastal restoration, noting that it cost nearly $100 billion to rebuild the Gulf Coast after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. ‘Knowing what is at stake and coming to terms with the true costs of saving coastal Louisiana are prerequisites for a robust civic conversation about how best to finance it.’ ”

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Questions for the Panelists:

Ms. Anne Mueller, Development Director of The Lens, was kind enough to offer to forward questions to the panelists, so we came up with the following, in descending order of importance (though we think they’re all important). If you have questions, you can write to Anne at <amueller@TheLensNola.org> or via The Lens’s staff contact page.

The first thing we would say to the panelists is “Thank You for coming and sharing your expertise. We owe you, and we’re listening. And please come again!” 

(1)  In a time when federal funding is not likely from a U.S. Congress in which fiscal conservative / Tea Party representatives seem not to want to allocate any further funding for any purpose, but only to cut back, how can we approach members of Congress—what persuasive arguments can we make that this environmental issue is critical and needs federal assistance? (“National Security Begins at Home.”) Private contributions alone will not suffice.

(2)  Even if Louisiana were to be offered federal funding to help with coastal restoration (please!), what’s to stop Gov. Jindal from once again making a political show of refusing to accept federal monies? He has done this time and again, to the state’s detriment (and we’ve seen his actions against the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority–East lawsuit).

(3)  re: private sources of funding: How can environmental leaders / organizers (such as the panelists and their colleagues) and rank-and-file activists appeal to CEOs and other business executives (esp. of oil and gas / energy companies) to please help contribute funding to coastal restoration? Can they help pay for advertising / public service announcements, for example? We “little people” are already doing about all we can think to do. What does it take to get them to help more? (Our friend Mark Davis will say we need to show them what we’re doing, that it’s important to us, etc. True, but what else?)

(4)  How can the good people of Louisiana, who are not known for environmental activism, get our friends, neighbors, fellow citizens to care and speak up about Louisiana’s coastal predicament? (Public service announcements on TV and radio by Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, for example, might help, right?)

(5)  For The Lens and organizers: Were representatives from the staffs of Gov. Jindal and senators Landrieu and Vitter and Congressman Scalise invited to this event? If not, why not? All possible high elected officials should be invited, or at least notified—Mayor Landrieu’s office, too. (We admit, this question only occurred to us this morning.)

Again, we are grateful to The Lens and the Mississippi River Delta Coalition for organizing this important event, and we thank the following sponsors: The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, the National Wildlife Federation, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, and the Audubon Society Louisiana.

See the event’s Facebook page here.

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Further Reading

800px-Mississippi_Delta_IRSee our previous post about the Coastal Conservation Conversation below.

Understanding Louisiana’s Environmental Crisis: To learn more about Louisiana’s environmental predicament, which has repercussions for the entire United States, see “Understanding Louisiana’s Environmental Crisis” on our Environment & Ecology page.

Other LNW posts about Louisiana’s coastal crisis: 

Honoré Speaks for La. Flood Protection Authority Lawsuit Against Big Oil (9/12/13)

Louisiana Flood Protection Agency Sues Big Oil to Repair Wetlands (7/25/13)

Conservatives, Please Help Conserve Louisiana’s Coast (10/3/11)

When Harry Met a Cover-Up: Shearer Talks about “The Big Uneasy” (10/14/10)

Martha Serpas: Our Life, Between Sea and Oil (7/11/10) : reprint of a New York Times op-ed

BP Oilpocalypse Threatens New Orleans’s Very Existence (5/14/10)

BP Celebrates Earth Day with Bonfire, Oil Spill: Well Leaks 210,000 Gallons a Day into Gulf of Mexico (4/26/10)

Coastal Conservation Corps: A New CCC for Coastal Restoration—and Jobs (11/18/09)

And more! Click here.

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An unforgettable scene in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) showed former Attorney General John Ashcroft singing “Let the Eagle Soar.” We say “Let the Pelican Soar . . . and soar some more.”

pelican (big bird)

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Join Louisiana’s Most Important Conversation: Aug. 20 at Loyola University

08/13/14

A Coastal Conservation Conversation

CCCThe Lens, with sponsorship from the Mississippi River Delta Coalition, is hosting a panel discussion—a Coastal Conservation Conversation—on the financing of the $50 billion master plan for coastal restoration at Loyola University, Wednesday, Aug. 20 from 6 to 8 p.m., in room 114 Miller Hall. (The title of the event is admittedly not dyslexic-friendly; just think CCC.)

The experts on the panel will be:

Mark Davis, Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy  •  John Driscoll, Corporate Planning Resources  •  Kyle Graham, Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority  •  Douglas J. Meffert, Audubon Louisiana/National Audubon Society  •  Steve Murchie, Gulf Restoration Network

The discussion will be moderated by John Snell of WVUE/Fox 8.

(Click here for a campus map, and here for the event’s Facebook page.)

What Is Coastal Restoration and Why Is It Needed?

microbewiki.Wetlands_lossEvery year Louisiana loses 25 square miles of land—50 acres every day. About 1,900 square miles have disappeared in the past century—more than 25 times the land area of Washington, D.C.—and the erosion is accelerating. Katrina tore away four years’ worth of land loss—about 100 square miles—in only a few hours. The land loss is not only killing species of wildlife, but is taking away the buffer that protects human settlements such as the city of New Orleans and Acadiana—Cajun country—from hurricanes and the encroaching Gulf of Mexico. Valuable oil and gas and shipping infrastructure are also endangered, exposed to violent storms. Experts say if a serious, all-hands-on-deck, fully-funded federal effort is not mounted within the next five to ten years, New Orleans and Acadiana will be lost.

Wetlands protect human settlements from hurricane storm surges, which can rise as high as 25 feet. Every 2.5 to 4 miles of wetlands reduce hurricane storm surges by about a foot; measured another way, each mile of marsh reduces storm surges by 3 to 9 inches. Metro New Orleans, home to about 1.5 million, is now protected by a buffer no more than about 20 miles of wetlands.

Coastal restoration—replacing the eroded soil and wetlands—can be done in many ways, as the panel will explain, but among the methods being attempted are diversions of sediment-rich water from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers. Diversions at strategic openings, such as the ones at Caernarvon and Davis Pond, allow river water to spread across the wetlands and replenish the soil. Other methods are vegetation plantings (as shown in the photo below, left), hydrologic restoration, marsh creation, shoreline protection, sediment trapping, and stabilization of barrier islands. All are being implemented, but only to a small, insufficient degree.

What Will They Be Talking About?

We spoke with Mark Davis of Tulane’s Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy to ask about the focus of the Coastal Conservation Conversation. Davis, former director of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, says there are many good, workable plans that have been drawn up over the years; the critical need now is to identify how exactly the implementation will be funded. “For one thing, the $50 billion figure you’ve heard about does not include everything that will be needed. We need to identify what funds we have currently available to draw from, and then where we can get the additional funding. The funding cannot be left to chance,” Davis emphasized. “Considering that nobody wants to pay higher taxes—not individuals and not businesses—where will the money come from? Bonds won’t do the trick.”

noaaprotects_volunteersDavis stressed that the often-heard assertion that “they owe it to us”—meaning Big Oil owes Louisiana the money to repair damages from oil exploration—doesn’t get us very far. If that is true, how are you going to get that money? How are you going to convince the companies to help pay for restoration? We all need to have some “skin in the game,” he said, to make elected officials and CEOs take our claims seriously. Environmental groups and activists must be able to demonstrate what we are doing, what we ourselves are willing to pay and to do, with time and roll-up-your-sleeves efforts. This could involve talking to neighbors, organizing town hall meet-ups, generating public will and action to press on elected officials and businesses, and volunteering for plantings and other restoration efforts.

For a simple example, Davis said, we’re willing to spend a few dollars more for bottled water to make sure we have clean, safe drinking water. Expand it out from there: what else are we willing to pay for to ensure that the state will have restored wetlands that preserve wildlife and hunting and fishing areas and keep a buffer between us and the hurricane storm surge?

“We shouldn’t delude ourselves about what we’re facing,” Davis said. “There is an area between fatalism and acceptance of doom. We have not yet become victims of inevitable change. We have tools here that we can work with.”

“Louisiana has to realize that other parts of the United States are discovering they need assistance, local and federal, for storm protection and rebuilding—Florida especially and now, after Hurricane Sandy (2012), New York and New Jersey, too. We have to have a practical financial plan. This is what the Coastal Conversation is about.”

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In addition to The Lens and the Mississippi River Delta Coalition, the Coastal Conservation Conversation is being sponsored by the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, the National Wildlife Federation, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, and the Audubon Society Louisiana. See the event’s Facebook page here.

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Honoreleadership-207x300“We have a hard task, but through the power of connectivity, we can succeed. In a democracy, you can turn the situation around. . . . We’ve got to figure out how we’re going to use our voice to influence our legislators. . . . This is our time. This is a great cause. How are you going to get your nieces and nephews and neighbors involved? The way we’re going in the state of Louisiana, this place will not be fit to live in.”

Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, keynote address on leadership and environmental justice, Rising Tide conference, New Orleans, Sept. 14, 2013

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louisiana-coast

LaCoast.ca1950

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Land-loss maps from MicrobeWiki; planting photo by NOAA; photo of oil/gas pipeline canals cutting through Louisiana wetlands, 2010, from Getty Images via Bloomberg; bottom map of Louisiana by U.S. Geological Survey circa 1950.

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Must We? For Now, But for How Long?

08/10/14

A Reluctant, Tentative Endorsement of (More) U.S. Military Action in Iraq

“As Commander-in-Chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq. . . . American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq, because there’s no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq. The only lasting solution is reconciliation among Iraqi communities and stronger Iraqi security forces.”President Obama, Aug. 7, 2014

ISIS areasOn Aug. 7 President Obama announced on live TV that he had authorized U.S. military strikes against ISIS forces in Iraq and humanitarian airlifts of food and water to some 5,000 to 12,000 Yazidis, an ethnic and religious minority, who have fled into the hills of Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq to avoid being slaughtered by ISIS. On Aug. 9 he made a follow-up statement to prepare the public for what will be an extended operation. (President’s remarks here.)

Using Predator drones and Navy F-18 fighter jets, the U.S. has launched airstrikes against ISIS forces around Erbil, a Kurdish city in northern Iraq where U.S. advisers are stationed. (The Kurds, long persecuted by Saddam Hussein, have been friendly to the U.S. since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.)

The American objectives at this time are primarily humanitarian and strategic: to prevent more deaths among the starving and dehydrated Yazidis, and to halt the already unnerving incursion of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, also known as ISIL, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) into northern Iraq. ISIS is a militant Sunni group  founded in 2006 with ties to Al Qaeda—in fact they called themselves Al Qaeda in Iraq—but Al Qaeda has disowned ISIS as too extreme. (Indeed, it is difficult to say whether “Iraq” as we have known it still exists, as ISIS has declared a “caliphate,” an Islamic state, that includes both Syria and Iraq; they have effectively erased the border between the two nations.) ISIS’s blitzkrieg through northern Iraq in early June alarmed the Pentagon and White House enough that Obama ordered some 300 armed forces personnel to Baghdad to protect the U.S. embassy, then about 500 more personnel later. (See “Obama Sends Troops to Protect U.S. Embassy in Baghdad” 6/17/14.)

Sometimes It’s Not Easy Saying No

Yazidi children in IraqWe want very much to oppose this new use of U.S. military force in Iraq, but it’s complicated, and it’s hard to say Absolutely No. For one thing, we trust the judgment of this president who is so reluctant to send U.S. forces into action—in Iraq of all places, from which he worked hard to extricate our too-long-entrenched troops. This is partly a humanitarian mission—we agree with humanitarian missions in principle—and also, whether we like it or not, the United States is obligated to help clean up a mess that Obama’s neocon predecessors started by the mad, obsessive rush to war against Iraq in 2003.

“Complicated” doesn’t begin to describe the current predicament, but if the U.S. can help ease Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite, out of office and help coordinate Iraqis’ organizing in a more representative government in Iraq, one that comprises Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish representatives, then the fury of ISIS may abate somewhat. For now, however, Maliki refuses to relinquish or even to consider sharing power. To a great extent, Maliki is the problem, but he’s not the only problem.

We feel strongly that the U.S. must not get involved (any more than we are already secretly, covertly involved) in the Syrian civil war. ISIS’s commanders apparently are based in Syria. We think President Obama was right to pull back from firing on Syria last year around Labor Day when he gave signals that the U.S. was about to fire on Syria for having used chemical weapons against their people. (See “Congress, Now Is the Time to Vote ‘Hell No’ ” 9/4/13) Obama had unwisely said that such would be a “red line” that Bashar al Assad could not be allowed to cross. Just because the president misspoke, however, did not obligate him to go ahead and make further mistakes by escalating a highly complicated conflict. America’s involvement would just blow the whole thing up, and we think Obama was right to step back, however embarrassing it was for the administration, and even though it added more ammunition to the conservative hawks like John McCain and Lindsey Graham who criticize Obama’s foreign policy no matter what he does.

We Kind of Owe It to Them, After All

The United States has been involved in Iraq since at least the mid twentieth century, well before Saddam Hussein. In 1960 the CIA was making plans to incapacitate the communist-inclined dictator Abd al-Karim Qasim, who in 1958 had deposed the Iraqi monarchy that had been friendly to the West. (Oil, remember.) See “Plan to Oust Qasim” in Wikipedia’s entry here. (The CIA and the U.K. had engineered a coup in Iran in 1953 to overthrow democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh; why stop there?)

As with Iran next door, U.S. relations with Iraq have long been complicated and murky, to say the least, but our nation has interfered with Iraq’s internal affairs in order to have access to oil—the primary reason for the 2003 invasion, after all—and it seems to us only fair that the United States try to help restore some order in a nation where we have wrought untold damage. Now, whatever is done will naturally be tilted primarily in what is perceived as the United States’s best interests, but if it must be done, we would sooner trust a Democratic administration to handle the cleanup than the other party; we saw how well Republicans handled matters when George W. Bush was in office.

We kind of owe it to the Iraqis to give some protection and assistance in cleaning up a mess largely of our making, but for how long, and at what cost? We don’t pretend to know, and we remain profoundly uneasy about the whole affair.

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ISIS’s Real “Shock and Awe”

Addendum: At Talking Points Memo, a reader who has worked as a U.S. military intelligence and counter-terrorism specialist in Iraq since the late 1980s writes in to explain who ISIS (or ISIL) are and why they have been so successful in sweeping bloodily through Iraq. He also makes clear why the Kurdish Peshmerga, who have a reputation as fierce fighters (and were allies of the U.S. against Saddam Hussein and Islamic insurgents), need help against ISIS:

As for ISIS, they are just a resurgent and re-named al-Qaeda in Iraq. They have the same combat capability they have always had. They fight with suicide bombers, AK-47s and RPG-7 rocket launchers, single vehicle long range battlefield rocket launchers and are mobile in what we call TTFs – Toyota Task Forces. They use extremely simple Taliban inspired “complex attack’ tactics. First they collect intelligence, covertly move into position, launch a wave of suicide bombers to breach gates and soften the objective up, then they bombard with battlefield rockets and launch a multiprong “Allahu Akhbar” infantry attack supported by heavy machineguns on Toyotas. . . . 

Why is ISIL so successful? Simply put they attack using simple combined arms but they hold two force multipliers – suicide bombers and a psychological force multiplier called TSV – Terror Shock Value. TSV is the projected belief (or reality) that the terror force that you are opposing will do anything to defeat you and once defeated will do the same to your family, friends and countrymen. . . . 

Keep reading at Talking Points Memo . . .

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House Democrats Demand to Know Why GOP Govs Rejected Medicaid Expansion

07/31/14

elijah-cummings.TimSloan-GettyImagesShow Us Why You’re Keeping Your People Poor and Sick

“In order to better understand the basis for your opposition, I request that you provide . . . copies of any state-specific analyses, studies, or reports that you ordered, requested or relied on to inform your decision.” Rep. Elijah Cummings, letter to GOP governors, July 29, 2014

In a rare and delightful display of Democratic vitality and imagination, the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md., above), has sent requests to six Republican governors to provide documentation to justify their decisions to reject—or to accept—federal funding that does, or would, enable expansion of Medicaid coverage under  the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). Three governors spurned the money, and three  accepted.

Talking Points Memo reports that Cummings sent letters to governors Rick Perry of Texas, Rick Scott of Florida, and Pat McCrory of North Carolina, each of whom turned down millions in available federal money that would have helped thousands of low-income people in their states have access to health care (individuals with incomes up to $14,856, and families of four with incomes up to $30,657; see graphic below). The three Republican governors who have accepted federal funding for Medicaid expansion are Jan Brewer of Arizona, John Kasich of Ohio, and Chris Christie of New Jersey.

A press release on the House Oversight Committee’s website explains, “Under the Affordable Care Act, Congress pays 100% of costs to expand Medicaid for the first three years, declining gradually to 90% by 2020, with states paying only 10% of these costs. Democratic governors have consistently supported expanding Medicaid, but Republican governors have disagreed among themselves, with widely differing explanations.”  

The press release adds:

At a national level, if the 24 states that have not yet expanded Medicaid were to do so today, they would provide healthcare services to an additional 5.69 million people in 2016, receive an additional $423 billion in federal funds for their state budgets through 2022, and help create an additional 734,000 jobs through 2017.  

Let’s Ask Bobby Jindal

JindalYesterday Levees Not War phoned Cummings’s office (202-225-4741) to request that the congressman also demand answers from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a former secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, who frequently boasts of turning down federal funding with the air of teetotaler virtuously abstaining from alcohol. In 2009, Jindal spurned nearly $100 million that would have aided some 25,000 unemployed Louisianians through the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or “stimulus” bill of early 2009.

That was just the start of Jindal’s rejecting of funds that would help Louisiana. When he attacked Obama in October 2012 for not waiving a federal 25% local matching requirement for emergency disaster assistance after Hurricane Isaac, Senator Mary Landrieu (D–La.) had had enough:

“The governor can’t have it both ways. He cannot complain about the federal government being stingy when he turned away $80 million in broadband for rural communities, $300 million in high-speed rail for urban areas and $60 million in early childhood education for all Louisiana’s children.”

Readers who want to ask Jindal’s office directly can call 225-342-7015 or (toll-free) 866-366-1121; fax 225-342-7099, or e-mail him here.

Remember “Country First” in the presidential campaign of 2008? It turns out that, for the party that used it, it was only a campaign slogan. We knew that at the time—we just didn’t anticipate to what extremes the cynicism would stretch.

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See also:

Jindal: From Rising Star to Black Hole (LNW, 2/25/09)

Mr. Jindal, Tear Down This Ambition (LNW, 2/20/09)

Republicans Against Medicare: A Long, Mean History (LNW, 10/15/12)

Think Progress: Bobby Jindal’s Obamacare Replacement Could Kick Millions Off Their Insurance Plans

More about the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) at Levees Not War

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Check out The Commonwealth Fund to learn more about how the Affordable Care Act is working.

The Commonwealth Fund: Implementing the Affordable Care Act: State Action on Quality Improvement in State-Based Marketplaces

Affordable Care Act Uninsured

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Photo credits: Elijah Cummings by Tim Sloan/Getty Images; Bobby Jindal by Tim Mueller for The New York Times. Graphic by The Commonwealth Fund.

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Louisiana Anthology Interviews Levees Not War

07/7/14

Louisiana AnthologyUsually when Levees Not War is involved in an interview, we do the interrogating. But now, we’re happy to report, the tables have been turned: Levees Not War is the subject of an in-depth interview with the editors of the Louisiana Anthology, Bruce R. Magee and Stephen Payne, professors at Louisiana Tech in Ruston. The Levees Not War Q&A is the second of a two-part interview with blogger and author Mark LaFlaur, focusing on Elysian Fields, a novel of New Orleans, that was posted on June 28 and July 5. Click here for the iTunes podcasts.

Bruce and Stephen have kindly posted two pieces from Levees Not War on the Louisiana Anthology website, “Is Katrina More Significant Than September 11?” and “Disaster Capitalism Will Solve U.S. Budget Deficit? Ask New Orleans and Wisconsin” (original links here and here).

At about 39:30 minutes in, the interview includes a 5-minute shout-out to the Rising Tide conference on the future of New Orleans held annually in mid-September at Xavier University (Sept. 13, 2014)—affordably priced and always interesting—with mentions of prominent keynote speakers such as Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, Harry Shearer, John Barry, and David Simon. Click here for more information about Rising Tide 2014.

The interview was conducted by phone in late April. Since the Q&A with Bruce and Stephen, Elysian Fields’s presence in bookstores, especially in the South, has expanded significantly. The book is now available at the stores listed below: support your local independent bookstores. We hope you’ll spread the word among your book-readin’ friends, and we welcome your suggestions of indie booksellers near you who you think might want to carry Elysian Fields.

EF_Kirkus

Bookstores Carrying Elysian Fields

[ see complete, up-to-date list here ]

New Orleans: Crescent City Books, Garden District Book ShopMaple Street Book ShopForever New Orleans, and Toulouse Royale

Baton Rouge: Cottonwood Books, Barnes & Noble at LSU

New York City: Three Lives & Co., McNally-Jackson Books

Atlanta: Eagle Eye Book Shop (Decatur)

Birmingham: The Little Professor Book Center in Homewood

Mobile: Bienville Books

Jackson, Miss.: Lemuria Bookstore

Oxford, Miss.Square Books

Bay St. Louis, Miss.: Bay Books

Memphis: The Booksellers at Laurelwood

Nashville: Parnassus Books

thanxamazonChapel Hill, N.C.: Bull’s Head Bookshop (UNC)

Durham, N.C.: The Regulator Bookshop

Austin: BookPeople

Houston: Blue Willow Bookshop

Little Rock, Ark.: WordsWorth Books & Co.

Berkeley, Calif.: University Press Books

San Francisco: City Lights Books

Portland, Ore.: Powell’s City of Books

Seattle: Elliott Bay Book Company

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Wishing America a Happier Birthday

07/4/14

democracy_a-challenge@TP. . . And Many Happy Returns

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. —That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

—from ¶ 2 of The Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia, July 4, 1776

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Bloggers on politics and current affairs tend to welcome the Fourth of July not only for the fireworks and cookouts like everyone else, but also because America’s Birthday provides an occasion for a kind of midsummer Thanksgiving. It’s also a time when we cannot help but feel the contrast between the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and our nation’s present-day actualities. Of course the nation is inevitably found wanting—as any nation would be—but the holiday can be a time to take stock of our fitness, in the same way a person who wants to lose weight or build strength weighs herself, looks in the mirror, and resolves to strive harder and smarter at the gym and the grocery store.

America.2In the neighborhood cinema last week we saw a trailer for America: Imagine the World Without Her, the new film by Dinesh D’Souza (based on his book of the same title), which challenges audiences to imagine the world without the greatness that is the United States of America as we (conservatives) know it, or her. The film shows the Statue of Liberty and other national icons disintegrating as one what-if after another strips away the essential components of our national history.

Now, the film may or may not be worth seeing, but what these images of disintegration called to mind almost immediately was the ravaging effect of the Supreme conservatives and Tea Partiers in Congress and in state legislatures who are dismantling the New Deal, the Great Society, stripping away the social safety net, refusing funding for rebuilding roads, bridges, and levees, revoking hard-won voting rights protections, and blocking access to health care for women and the poor and to common forms of birth control. (See William Greider’s powerful essay “Rolling Back the 20th Century,” a survey that’s as illuminating today as when The Nation published it in 2003.)

Here are some things we are thankful for on the nation’s birthday:

Domestic affairs: Although the Labor Department’s reports are not to be taken at face value because their numbers do not indicate the nearly 6 million who have given up trying to find jobs, we are pleased to see that about 2.5 million jobs were created in the last year, and over 9.4 million jobs have been created over the last several years. A New York Times editorial today (“Jobs Rebound, Prosperity Lags”) reports:

The economy added 288,000 jobs in June, and tallies for April and May were revised upward, bringing job creation over the past year to 2.49 million, the highest level in five years. The unemployment rate also fell to 6.1 percent, the lowest level in nearly six years, and, even better, the decline was unambiguously good news. It resulted from people getting hired and not leaving the work force.

The editorial goes on to note, however, that

Job growth is still falling short by 6.7 million jobs, including government jobs that were lost and not replaced, plus jobs that were needed to keep up with the population but not created. The jobless rate would be 9.6 percent, if it counted nearly six million people who would be looking for work or working if the economy were stronger.

Regrettably (to put it lightly), much of this weakness could be avoided by aggressive congressional action—and it’s never too late. Many, many jobs could be created, and others kept, if another stimulus were to be enacted, a really robust one this time; or if congressional Republicans would allow a vote on the American Jobs Act that President Obama first proposed in a speech to a joint session of Congress in September 2011, and for which he campaigned vigorously. (Click here to see what that act would have provided for—e.g., $35 billion in aid to states and cities to prevent teacher layoffs, and $50 billion for investments in transportation infrastructure.)

Executive actions: We are pleased that President Obama, who for too long tried to be reasonable and conciliatory with an opposition party that had already resolved to block him at every turn and allow no legislative accomplishments, ever, has recently, and with evident relish, turned to executive actions to do what he can on issues that cannot wait—such as raising the minimum wage for federal workers and for workers employed by federal contractors, on making the U.S. better prepared to combat climate change, etc. Other executive orders can be found here. As President Obama remarked before a July 1 cabinet meeting:

. . . what I’m going to be urging all of you to do, and what I’m going to be continually pushing throughout this year and for the next couple of years is that if Congress can’t act on core issues that would actually make a difference in helping middle-class families get ahead, then we’re going to have to be creative about how we can make real progress.

Meanwhile, congressional Republicans offer no solutions of their own and continue to block all Democratic attempts at progress on creating jobs, on funding of badly needed infrastructure projects, on comprehensive immigration reform, on gun control, and other matters on which the Obama administration has pushed for legislative action. (See, for instance, “GOP Is Not to Be Trusted with Adult Responsibilities,” LNW 10/17/13, and “Jobs, Jobs . . . Senate Republicans Keep Vets Unemployed,” LNW 9/25/12.)

Foreign affairs: We are reassured (for the most part) that this president is secure enough in his own judgment about national security and the expertise of his advisers that he will not be rushed into a knee-jerk military response to the latest crisis in Iraq (or what used to be known as Iraq). We are relieved, for example, that he does not worry about what John McCain will say. Regarding Iraq and the ISIS crisis, we are writing to the White House and to the Democratic Senate leadership to urge them to keep diplomacy first, to keep U.S. involvement minimal, military action nonexistent if possible, and to use every opportunity to think long-term and use diplomatic pressure to try to bring about more equitable representation of Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds in Iraq’s national government.

We remain impressed that the president opted not to authorize military strikes on Syria, as he considered doing around last Labor Day—that was the right call, in our view, and a courageous exercise of restraint—and that he and Secretary of State John Kerry have worked to reduce Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile (nearly all disposed of now, we’re told), with cooperation from Russia. We also applaud Obama for being a vigorous supporter, since his days in the Senate, of nuclear nonproliferation efforts and of arms reduction agreements with Russia, particularly the New Start Treaty of 2010 (thanks also to former Senator Dick Lugar, Republican of Indiana, along with then-Senator John Kerry).

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“Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends”

vintage-flagWe continue to believe in the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution, and, as long as gross inequities and injustices exist, we expect never to be really satisfied with this nation that has such immense potential. Much has been given to this country, and much is expected of it. Perhaps it is only through our own individual efforts at cultivating peace and protecting liberty, including our neighbors’—the America within each of us—that the nation can be brought closest to its fulfillment.

This formerly (and ever potentially) great country deserves better, so much better, than what many of its elected officials are doing for it at present. (Country First, or Party First?) On this national holiday, the nation’s birthday, let us all, let each of us, recommit to do our part.

“Work as if you are in the early days of a better nation.” —Alasdair Gray

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Further Reading:

On July 4, Yearning for a Progressive American Revolution” (LNW 7/4/13)

Charles M. Blow, New York Times: “Barack the Bear

Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog: “Obama no longer cares whether the GOP is outraged

GOP Is Not to Be Trusted with Adult Responsibilities: Two-Week Tantrum Epitomizes GOP’s Recovery-Strangling Refusal to Share in Work of Governing (LNW, 10/17/13)

Review of Gordon S. Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution 

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Illustration credit: “Democracy . . . a challenge” found at Think Progress.

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Mississippi’s Runoff and Memories of Freedom Summer

06/26/14

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun (1950)

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On the night of the Mississippi GOP primary runoff between U.S. senator Thad Cochran and state senator Chris McDaniel, PBS aired Freedom Summer, a powerful American Experience documentary of the summer of 1964. Fifty years ago, on the invitation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), some 700 college students, mostly white and mostly from the North, volunteered to work in Mississippi to register black people to vote and to teach children and adults. The contrast, and the overlaps and continuities, between Tuesday’s election and 1964’s Freedom Summer are striking.

Many Americans do not know that in the early 1960s black people in Mississippi (though not only in Mississippi) risked being murdered simply for registering to vote. At the least, they could be fired from their jobs or driven from their homes. At the time, only 7 percent of the African American population of Mississippi was registered to vote, compared to about 50 to 70 percent in other southern states. Cochran won, but McDaniel has not conceded. It was widely reported before the election that the Cochran campaign realized they must appeal to Democratic voters, which in Mississippi means primarily black voters, to come out and vote for longtime senator Cochran. Mississippi has open primaries, which means that anyone of any party can vote for any candidate. The McDaniel supporters—mostly Tea Party conservatives who regard Cochran as a Democrat-like sell-out—are furious, and some are urging a break from the Republican Party, which they see as not much different from the Democratic Party.

Is It OK to Vote in Another Party’s Primary?

We confess to having some misgivings about the idea of large numbers of citizens who usually vote for one party getting involved in a primary election organized by a different party. We did not like it when, apparently, GOP operatives were behind the 2010 candidacy of an unemployed African American veteran in a senate primary in South Carolina ultimately won by Jim De Mint; this unemployed veteran’s candidacy drew Democratic votes away from other, more serious Democratic contenders. (Then–House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, a Democrat, also found the whole affair very suspicious.) In short, Republicans have played so many dirty tricks on each other and on Democrats over the years that we have no sympathy when fair play brings about a result that displeases one of their candidates. (And, anyway, the McDaniel campaign was behind the sneak-in photographing of elderly Mrs. Cochran in a nursing home for an anti-Cochran video—in connection with which a Tea Party activist has now committed suicide—and just after the June 3 primary several McDaniel supporters were found after hours in the Hinds County Courthouse where the ballots were kept; that still has not been explained.)

In any case, though, it strikes us as reasonable that in a state with an open primary law, which allows any registered voter to give their ballot to any candidate they choose, to vote against a candidate who one has reason to believe will be harmful to oneself or one’s state. It was clear that McDaniel would not continue the flow of federal funding that Thad Cochran has succeeded in bringing to the very poor state of Mississippi, which needs all the money it can get for better roads, schools, water purification systems, and the like. An anti-government Tea Party firebrand like McDaniel somehow did not instill the same confidence as the 36-year veteran of the Senate. So, if you legally could, why not vote against him?

As reported in Talking Points Memo, McDaniel said, “Naturally sometimes it’s difficult to contest an election, obviously, but we do know that 35,000 Democrats crossed over. And we know many of those Democrats did vote in the Democratic primary just three weeks ago which makes it illegal.”

Who Is This Chris McDaniel?

chris mcdanielMany Democrats voted in the primary runoff to keep a Tea Party Republican from replacing a traditional conservative (but comparatively moderate) Republican who at least believes that government can play a beneficial role in public life. McDaniel said he was not sure he would have voted for federal relief funding after Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of the Mississippi Gulf Coast in late August 2005. He has pointed out that education is not mentioned in the United States Constitution. This time last year McDaniel delivered the keynote address at a gathering in Jackson, Miss., of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a neo-Confederate group that contends that the wrong side won the Civil War. A spokesman for the group said McDaniel has addressed the Sons of Confederate Veterans on other occasions as well. Mr. McDaniel is certainly free to address any group he pleases, at any time, but what does this affinity of his say about someone who seeks to represent an entire state in the nation’s capital? It seems to us that he is more likely to be anti-government, certainly unfriendly to the concept of the federal government, and will have pro-secessionist inclinations. How well would such a person “play with others” in an institution whose work, at least historically, calls for occasional cooperation and compromise? And—just one more question—how sympathetic can such a friend of the Confederate Sons be to the aims of Freedom Summer?

Red State Republicans ‘Free at Last’

“The Court’s finding reflects well on the progress states like Mississippi have made over the last five decades.  I think our state can move forward and continue to ensure that our democratic processes are open and fair for all without being subject to excessive scrutiny by the Justice Department.”Senator Thad Cochran, June 25, 2013

Freedom Summer handshakeAlmost exactly one year to the day after the Supreme Court narrow-mindedly struck down a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and thus opened the way for new restrictions on likely Democratic voters in the former Confederacy—which GOP-led legislatures in southern states began taking advantage of by introducing new voter I.D. laws and other restrictions on the very day the ruling was issued—a Republican candidate finds himself depending on the votes of the very people his party has worked so assiduously to discourage from the polls. Because the mostly white Republican voter base is increasingly a minority, the party must find ways to prevent the other side from going to the polls in substantial numbers.

[ See “Supreme Conservatives Drag U.S. Ceaselessly into the (Jim Crow) Past,” LNW 6/26/13  •  “How Many White Folks Does It Take to Pass a Jim Crow ‘Brain-Teaser’?” LNW 6/30/13  •  and “The (GOP-Driven) Decline of Black Power in the South,” LNW 7/11/13. ]

Now, Mr. Cochran, Stand Up for Voting Rights Act’s Protections

New York Times editorial, “Thad Cochran’s Debt to Mississippi,” asserts that Cochran owes it to the people of his state—particularly those who helped him keep his job—“to return the favor by supporting a stronger Voting Rights Act and actively working to reduce his party’s extreme antigovernment policies.”

Last year, Mr. Cochran praised the Supreme Court decision that gutted the heart of the Voting Rights Act. He can now make it clear that bipartisanship goes both ways by crossing party lines to support a new measure that would restore the act’s protections, becoming the first Republican senator to do so.

It remains to be seen what William Thad Cochran will do with the power he continues to wield, and whether McDaniel will contest the election, or form a third party. McDaniel has signaled that he has no interest in remaining in a timid, “pastel” GOP that is sometimes willing to compromise (or even to speak) with Democrats. He is clever, articulate, photogenic, and he has a strong base of support—not only in Mississippi: allies include talk radio hosts Glenn BeckMark Levin, Sean Hannity, and a former GOP vice presidential candidate this blog prefers not to mention by name. Chaney, Goodman, Schwerner

Early on, a tragic pall was cast over Freedom Summer by the disappearance on June 21, 1964, of civil rights workers James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner (left). Goodman and Schwerner had come to Mississippi earlier than most of the other volunteers and met their SNCC partner James Chaney. It was later found that the three were murdered by members of the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Neshoba County’s Sheriff Office, and the Philadelphia Police Department located in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

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Photo of Thad Cochran (top) by Joe Ellis/AP; photo of Chris McDaniel from campaign website.

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Obama Sends Troops to Protect U.S. Embassy in Baghdad

06/17/14

ISIS supporters Mosul

ISIS supporters rally in Mosul, Iraq. BBC photo.

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White House Considers Special Forces to Advise Iraqis; Smells Like “Early Vietnam” Again

“The United States has provided a $14 billion foreign military aid package to Iraq that includes F-16 fighter jets, Apache attack helicopters and M-16 rifles. It has rushed hundreds of Hellfire missiles as well as ScanEagle reconnaissance drones. A second round of counterterrorism training between American Special Operations commandos and Iraqi troops started in Jordan this week.”New York Times (6/11/14)

The Guardian and other news outlets report that President Obama yesterday notified Congress that the U.S. is sending “up to approximately 275 U.S. Armed Forces personnel to provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.” The president’s letter to Congress continued:

This force is deploying for the purpose of protecting U.S. citizens and property, if necessary, and is equipped for combat. This force will remain in Iraq until the security situation becomes such that it is no longer needed. 

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney added this:

The personnel will provide assistance to the Department of State in connection with the temporary relocation of some staff from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to the U.S. Consulates General in Basra and Erbil and to the Iraq Support Unit in Amman. These U.S. military personnel are entering Iraq with the consent of the Government of Iraq. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad remains open, and a substantial majority of the U.S. Embassy presence in Iraq will remain in place and the embassy will be fully equipped to carry out its national security mission.

Sectarian LinesThis action is a response to the sudden offensive last week by the jihadist militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that charged through Mosul, Tikrit, and other cities in northern and central Iraq to within 75 miles of Baghdad, routing the Iraqi army, robbing banks, and executing Iraqi soldiers and police, and freeing Sunni prisoners. ISIS, also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, is a militant Sunni group founded in 2006 with ties to al Qaeda (though al Qaeda has disowned ISIS as too extreme), and the area it has swept through is also Sunni, thus sympathetic and more likely to cooperate than to resist.

The security situation is dire enough that the U.S. and Iran, already holding talks in Vienna about Iran’s nuclear program, have discussed the possibility of joint diplomatic efforts to halt the insurgents’ advance through Syria and Iraq. Secretary of State John Kerry initially would not rule out military cooperation, but other administration officials quickly downplayed the likelihood of military cooperation. In another sign of Iran’s alarm at the threat, the (Shiite) Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has issued a call to arms for all able-bodied men to resist ISIS’s advance toward Baghdad.

Baghdad, a city of 7 million, is ruled by a Shiite government under Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who, to the U.S. administration’s dismay, has refused to include Sunni and Kurdish representatives within the governing elite. President Obama has been criticized for not leaving a residual force in Iraq when U.S. troops were withdrawn at the end of 2011, but al-Maliki refused to allow any U.S. forces to stay behind. “Matters worsened after American troops left in 2011,” writes The New York Times’s Serge Schmemann, “effectively turning the Iraqi Army into a hated and corrupt occupation force in Sunni areas. When ISIS forces approached, most Iraqi Army soldiers simply shed their battle fatigues and fled, leaving behind huge stores of American arms, including helicopters, for the rebels to harvest.”

“This force will remain in Iraq until the security situation becomes such that it is no longer needed.” —President Obama, letter to Congress, June 16

Where’s That “Mission Accomplished” Feeling?

This move by the Obama administration, only days after the president vowed not to send U.S. combat forces back to Iraq, is in itself is not necessarily cause for alarm, but it does raise serious concerns, especially when we hear the too-familiar flapping of the wings of neocon war hawks (see below). The U.S. has a vast embassy in Baghdad, and the U.S. must show that it intends to protect its assets (people, property, files, etc.).

Rumsfeld-Hussein handshake 1983We are not alone in seeing the United States—or the five or so most forceful members of the George W. Bush administration, anyway—as responsible for igniting a conflagration between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the Middle East when the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003 and toppled Saddam Hussein, dismantled the central government and effectively split Iraq into three autonomous regions. For all of his faults, the Sunni strongman, long a friend of the U.S., did keep a lid on sectarian tensions in Iraq—often brutally (see also former Yugoslavia). But we will always believe that the “liberation” of Iraq, cynically branded “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” had more to do with U.S. access to Iraqi oil, and that the chaotic forces loosed by the American-led war are something that Bush-Cheney Inc. never bothered to prepare for. Defense was king, and the nuances and subtleties of the State Department’s diplomats were scorned by Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush, & Co. (The illustration above shows Iraqi president Saddam Hussein greeting Donald Rumsfeld, then special envoy of President Ronald Reagan, in Baghdad on Dec. 20, 1983.)

Then, compounding countless other errors already made through arrogance, lack of planning, and shunning of the State Department’s expertise, the U.S. through its Coalition Provisional Authority Administrator Paul Bremer disbanded the Iraqi army and sought to neutralize the Ba’ath Party that was Saddam’s. A formerly proud and cohesive military—after all, with some help from Uncle Sam, Iraq held tough in a war against Iran for eight years in the 1980s—was scattered, and the ex-soldiers, many of them, became fierce fighters against the U.S. occupation forces. This is one reason why the U.S. had to stay as long as it did, training a new army. (Why the Iraqi army had to be disbanded was never clear, and none of the brains behind the operation will take responsibility for the decision.) You may recall former president Bush saying, over and over, “When the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.” The disbanding of the Iraqi army was one of the worst of many disastrous decisions made by the U.S., and it haunts us—and Iraq—still.

“The Past Is Never Dead,” or, Beware the Neocon “Experts”

neocon1At the same time Obama is vowing not to send combat forces but is sending 275 embassy guardians, neocon hawks such as John McCain, Paul Wolfowitz, William Kristol, and Kenneth Pollack, who in 2002 and 2003 pushed relentlessly for a U.S. invasion of Iraq, are again appearing on Meet the Press, Face the Nation, in The New York Times, and on other mainstream network news talk shows and urging strong action against the jihadist forces. McCain has said that Obama should fire his entire national security team and has called for the ouster of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey.

John McCain also said, in April 2003, that there was “not a history of clashes that are violent” between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, “so I think they can probably get along”—he was a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee at the time—and he told MSNBC that he had “no doubt” that U.S. troops would be “welcomed as liberators.” McCain also said repeatedly in his 2008 campaign for president that Iran, a predominantly Shiite nation, had been training and supplying al-Qaida, a Sunni Islamist organization. Undersecretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz said in congressional testimony, “we have no idea what kind of ethnic strife might appear in the future, although as I’ve noted it has not been the history of Iraq’s recent past,” and said that money from Iraq’s oil would pay for the (brief) war. William Kristol said “it’s going to be a two-month war, not an eight-year war.” It turned out to be a nearly nine-year war (2003–11), and it may not be over. Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA analyst who is invariably identified as a Middle East expert, wrote in his very influential 2002 book The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq:

“. . . critics tend to exaggerate the likely costs to the United States of pursuing the Reconstruction Approach. In purely economic terms, Iraq itself, with its vast oil wealth, would pay for most of its reconstruction. . . . it is unimaginable that the United States would have to contribute hundreds of billions of dollars and highly unlikely that we would have to contribute even tens of billions of dollars. The United States probably would have to provide $5 to $10 billion over the first three years to help get Iraq’s oil industry back on its feet, initiate the reconstrution of Iraq’s economy, and support the Iraqi people in the meantime . . .” [Emphasis per Mondoweiss, where this quotation was found.]

These guys—always wrong, always called back and still taken seriously by the news producers.

James Fallows at The Atlantic puts the point nicely:

“. . . we are talking about people in public life—writers, politicians, academics—who got the biggest strategic call in many decades completely wrong. Wrong as a matter of analysis, wrong as a matter of planning, wrong as a matter of execution, wrong in conceiving American interests in the broadest sense. 

“. . . we now live with (and many, many people have died because of) the consequences of their gross misjudgments a dozen years ago. In the circumstances, they might have the decency to shut the hell up on this particular topic for a while. They helped create the disaster Iraqis and others are now dealing with. They have earned the right not to be listened to.”  [LNW’s emphasis]

new rule titlenew rule

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One more thing: Ominously, the U.S. aircraft carrier that has been sent into the Persian Gulf in case any air strikes are deemed necessary is the USS George H. W. Bush.

 

USSGHWBush-bbc

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Further Reading

The New York Times Middle East index

The Guardian on the ISIS crisis in Iraq

New York TimesThe Iraq-ISIS Conflict in Maps, Photos and Video

New York Times, “Rebels’ Fast Strike in Iraq Was Years in the Making” (6/15/14)

New York Times, U.S. Said to Rebuff Iraqi Request to Strike Militants” (6/11/14; quoted in epigraph above)

Nafeez Ahmed, “Iraq blowback: Isis rise manufactured by insatiable oil addiction” in The Guardian

The mess in Iraq proves Obama was right to leave” by Matthew Yglesias

Juan Cole, “Seven Myths about the Radical Sunni Advance in Iraq

Steve Benen @ MaddowBlog, “[Neocons] have earned the right not to be listened to

James Fallows in The Atlantic, “The Return of the Iraq War Hawk

Andrew J. Bacevich in Commonweal, “The Duplicity of the Ideologues: U.S. Policy & Robert Kagan’s Fictive Narrative

Enter Ken Pollack and Tom Friedman– the Iraq experts!” James North at Mondoweiss

The Best and the Brightest: (Former Clintonite) Kenneth Pollack” by Philip Weiss at Mondoweiss (6/1/06)

Levees Not War posts on the Iraq War

As “End” of Iraq War Is Announced, U.S. Digs In, Warns Iran  (10/30/11)

How Many U.S. Soldiers Were Wounded in Iraq?  (12/31/11)

As Combat Troops Leave Iraq, Where’s Our National Security?  (8/19/10)

“Kill the Bill” vs. “Stop the War”: A Tale of Two Protests  (4/11/10)

Omigod! Infinite Iraqi Freedom! We’re Never Leaving!  (4/7/08)

OMG! Operation Iraqi Freedom Isn’t Free!  (11/11/07)

Let the Eagle Soar . . .”  (10/23/07)

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