Friday, April 21, 2006

The past comes back to haunt Iran policy

If the reports and timeline are accurate, Kevin Drum's summation of the ham-fisted, and perhaps deliberately disrupted, history of U.S. and Iranian relations since 2003 is about as clear an example of why the foreign-policy hard-liners in the administration need to be driven out.

With that as background, here's my suggestion: quit letting Cheney's crackpots run foreign policy and talk to Iran. After all, the administration's ideologues killed an opportunity to ratchet down tensions three years ago, and since then things have only gotten worse: Iran has elected a wingnut president, they've made progress on nuclear enrichment, gained considerable influence in Iraq, and increased their global economic leverage as oil supplies have gotten tighter. So why blow another chance? If the talks fail, then they fail. But what possible reason can there be to refuse to even discuss things with Iran — unless you're trying to leave no alternative to war?

The possibility that the administration's current "showdown" with Iran was manufactured, or at the least avoidable, is maddening, but not necessarily surprising. The lead-up to the war in Iraq was also avoidable. It was cynically presented to the American people and politicized to the hilt. The administrations true goals were masked with layers of assurances that war was, "a last resort," when in reality, the administration had already chosen their path. The oft heard, "we can't back off our forces now that they are poised to go," reasoning was one of the clearer examples at the time.

- Murphy

Policy? Or Stunt

Today's raid on IFCO Systems that netted more than 1,000 illegal workers and took several company officers off to face some serious charges seems to be a step in the right direction. Taking steps to implement immigration reform ideas like cracking down on businesses that knowingly hire illegal workers, not only is likely to be the most effective, it is also likely to be the most economic.

Practically speaking, you can't check every business; it's like taxes, some people will cheat. Yet if you demonstrate that the costs of getting caught are high enough, you can deter significant violations.

The real question now, however, is if this action was merely a show put on by the administration to show they are thinking about practical measures? It was the largest such raid in history, certain to generate lots of favorable press; but will anything follow in its wake?

Will the Republicans really take on business interests on this issue?

- Murphy

Monday, April 17, 2006

The more you make, the more you save

The L.A. Times has a great story this tax day, "Taxes Flatten but Deep Pockets Still Buldge". The Times says that while the much-fabled "Flat Tax" has not been enacted, the Bush administration's tax policy has achieved much the same thing.
As a result, people with income between $500,000 and $1 million owed the same share of their income in combined federal income and payroll taxes — 22% — as did taxpayers reporting at least $1 million in income, according to the Tax Policy Center.

Taxpayers in the $100,000 to $200,000 range paid nearly the same rate, 20.6%. Those in the $50,000 to $75,000 range paid 17.4%; taxpayers in the $40,000 to $50,000 range paid 15.8%; and those in the $30,000 to $40,000 range paid 13.6%.

Advocates of the flat tax have long argued that it would stimulate economic activity, ultimately benefiting everyone. Bush shares that view, though he has not officially advocated a flat tax.
It is not exactly flat, but it is closer to the proposed %17 flat tax proposed by former Presidential Candidate Steve Forbes.

- Murphy

No Confidence

Former ambassador Richard Holbrooke expands on the Rumsfeld dilemma.

Even in this age when retired officers can begin a second career as a cable-news commentator, there is a certain well-founded unease when military leaders openly criticize their civilian superiors. It is a rare event and it speaks volumes about the seriousness of the breakdown in the administration's handling of Iraq.

If this were one or two generals, it may be easy to dismiss as merely a blip; but six, with the possibility of more, is an earthquake.

A current member of the military told me last week that comments by Senators such as Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to the effect that we are losing the war offers aid to the enemy by giving enemy propagandists ammunition. That's a not-so-subtle way of calling someone a traitor. Yet, by that logic, so are these generals.

It's one thing to criticize politicians for trying to score cheap political points, but if you consider it in light of the generals' comments, perhaps they are putting the best interests of the country first. I doubt the generals are interested in putting their men or their respected services at risk.

I think they can clearly articulate that there is a distinction between saying the U.S. has lost the war and saying the administration can lose the war.

Public opinion is essential to the success of any war. However, unlike the administration expected, military deaths are not the primary source of declining support, it is their failed policies. The administration spent so much time trying to insulate the public through glowing pronouncements of certain victory, restricting deployment to politically "acceptable" numbers and focusing only on intelligence that agreed with their view of the world, that they seem to have convinced themselves as much as the public that they were in for a walk in the park.

If they had been honest from the start, we would likely be in a very different situation.

- Murphy

Monday, April 10, 2006

Once it's out of the holster...

Hhow serious is the possibility of military action against Iran? The Forward Newspaper's Marc Perlman takes a look at how serious they are. Is it rhetoric? Perhaps not.

One major danger to the "talking tough" approach is that, as someone pointed out, you can eventually talk yourself into a corner. Part of the argument for invading Iraq was along the lines of, "Well, we spent all this time building up for the war and our troops are already there."

Pulling back on the hammer, pointing the gun and then saying its a fait acompli is a pretty weak argument, but one that didn't get much criticism in the lead-up to Iraq.

The corollary to the cocked gun is the "we'll lose our credibility if we back off now" argument. How much more destructive is it to U.S. credibility than to invade and then have all of your pre-war arguments collapse in the light of day.

- Murphy


What happens when you lie about war?

Credibility and power do not merely stem from having major firepower, an extensive intelligence operation and a good economy. Credibility comes from trust.

Growing up my father once told me that as long as I was honest with him, he would would always be able to back me up, no questions asked. Being a parent, I think he would likely support me regardless, but his point was that a person's word is their bond. If they go back on that, who would rightfully trust them?

Now, no one believes that government shouldn't have secrets and that it should protect them. Yet when a President willfully misleads the public, especially on a matter as important as war, he undercuts his ability to function as a leader. Deception is often necessary in statecraft. Yet deception in the service of a war of choice is beyond the pale. Not only does it violate the trust of the people you swore to protect, but you hurt the country and its future relations as well. The President will leave office at some point, the country still must live with his legacy.

Recent reports have pretty much nailed down what many Bush-watchers believed to be the case, the White House willfully misled the American public in order to bolster support for his war in Iraq. A war they had every intention of waging, regardless of the circumstances.

- Murphy

Time to work on Farsi

Why stop with one boondoggle when you can have two?
There is a growing conviction among members of the United States military, and in the international community, that President Bush’s ultimate goal in the nuclear confrontation with Iran is regime change. Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has challenged the reality of the Holocaust and said that Israel must be “wiped off the map.” Bush and others in the White House view him as a potential Adolf Hitler, a former senior intelligence official said. “That’s the name they’re using. They say, ‘Will Iran get a strategic weapon and threaten another world war?’ ”

A government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon said that Bush was “absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb” if it is not stopped. He said that the President believes that he must do “what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do,” and “that saving Iran is going to be his legacy.”

Afghanistan remains unfinished, the administration has failed the forces on the ground trying to rebuild Iraq; now this? I hope Hersh is correct and that the military is taking the situation seriously enough to be speaking out.

By now, I think everyone has heard the concerns that the U.S. military is stressed to its breaking point. That doesn't mean they can not act, in an emergency they can still handle any other force, but only for a short time. A new, sustained front is likely beyond the capability of the current force. The only real option would be air strikes.

Airstrikes may sound like a viable option, but unlike the Balkans, Iran has the capacity to hit back. At the very least they could make a successful rebuilding of Iraq a distant dream, they wouldn't even have to do much.

Bush may want to invade Iran to secure his legacy, but it is unlikely to be one to be looked upon with much pride. Perhaps he should be thinking of the long-term affects of his actions rather then worry over his legacy.

- Murphy

I am the law

How much longer will Republicans in Congress allow the President and his administration to continue on unmolested? It does seem that at least Rep. Sensenbrenner (R-WS) is taking an initiative, but most aren't willing to buck the pressure from the White House.
WASHINGTON, April 6 — Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales suggested on Thursday for the first time that the president might have the legal authority to order wiretapping without a warrant on communications between Americans that occur exclusively within the United States.

"I'm not going to rule it out," Mr. Gonzales said when asked about that possibility at a House Judiciary Committee hearing.

At what point does the oath the Congressmen and the President swear to when the enter office overcome their oath to their party and power.

- Murphy

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Best and Brightest.

This column by Fareed Zakaria cuts right through a lot of the rhetoric surrounding the immigration debate.
Beyond the purely economic issue, however, there is the much deeper one that defines America -- to itself, to its immigrants and to the world. How do we want to treat those who are already in this country, working and living with us? How do we want to treat those who come in on visas or guest permits? These people must have some hope, some reasonable path to becoming Americans. Otherwise we are sending a signal that there are groups of people who are somehow unfit to be Americans, that these newcomers are not really welcome and that what we want are workers, not potential citizens. And we will end up with immigrants who have similarly cold feelings about America.
I think Zakaria hits upon an issue here that, for some reason, has been lost in the arguments over positive and negative impact of a growing number of immigrants. Immigration is more than an economic, zero-sum game. Immigration is also the adoption of a new country and creating new communities.

What will become of the epic stories of immigrants arriving on U.S. soil to make a new, better life for themselves and their family in light of the arguments we hear batted around today? How many of those immigrants have gone on to bring greatness, wealth and prestige to their adopted home?

There will always been lone individuals that will confirm the worst fears of those concerned about immigrants. We can either continue on as a land that cares more about your character and your drive than where you came from, or we can slip into destructive neo-protectionism and align ourselves with the failed practices of the Know-Nothing party that lies, deservedly, in the ash heap of American history.

Is this still the land that welcomes the tired, the poor, the huddled masses because we believe they believe they can become the best and the brightest? Or should we hang out our shingle that says "no foreigners need apply"?

- Murphy

Honest day's pay...

Here's a question that I haven't heard asked or answered: How hard is it for conservative politicians to argue that immigration is a threat to wages while also arguing that unions (which, arguably, by keeping upward pressure on wages, also provide non-union workers with better wages) are no longer compatible with the modern economy?

Oddly enough, the unions and conservative groups may have found an unexpected bridge on this issue. Politics can make strange bedfellows.

As a quote in a recent Post-Dispatch story noted, the numbers of illegal immigrants working in construction and other trades is almost non-existent because of union oversight.

Could a combination of greater union representation among hourly workers and stiffer penalties for employers who hire illegal immigrants be more effective than walls, guns and temporary worker status?

- Murphy