Dec 15 2006

Finding the gooey moderate center…

Posted by Steve Ross in Foreign Policy, National Politics

Part of President Bush’s plan to ignore the ISG and the will of the American people involves crafting a political arrangement with the “moderate center” parties in Iraq. As promised in my previous post from this morning, here is a look at the main ones. Good luck finding that moderate center.

United Iraqi Alliance – A Shi’a group that currently controls 46.5% of the seats in parliament. It’s membership list features such media darlings as Moqtada Al-Sadr, and CIA liar Ahmed Chalabi. It also features Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Islamic Revolution party (backed by Iran). With nearly enough control to run the government on it’s own, and an association with some of the problems, not the solutions in Iraq, These don’t seem like the moderate center…they’re part of the problem.

Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan – The second largest seat holder in the Iraqi Parliament. The Administration already has a good working relationship with this group. However, with only 19% of the seats in parliament, it will take some serious brokering with other groups to get a majority.

It just gets worse from here, the next two groups are Iraqi Accord Front a Sunni Islamist group (44 seats 16%) and Iraqi National List a secular group comprised of both Sunni and Shi’a (25 seats 9%).

What follows in the parliament is a group of eight ideologically diverse groups whose voting block would only add up to 25 seats (9%). So let’s do some math. Who can work with whom to make some kind of block to the Shi’a islamists? It would take all of them.

One thing working in the President’s favor with this plan is that of the three main groups controlling the government in Iraq one is already on his side, the Kurds. That’s a good start. Certainly, within the Shi’a and Sunni groups there must be some moderates. The question is, are there enough moderates within those coalitions to effectively split the groups?

Of the parties that make up the UIA, there are 6 primary seat holders. Many of the names will be familiar to most Americans who have been keeping up with conditions in Iraq.

The Badr Organization is the armed wing of SCIRI. These two groups constitute the largest single block of the UIA coalition. Backed by Iran and armed to the teeth, it seems unlikely that either group would find any significant gains in this group. Establishing an agreement with either would be tantamount to talking to Iran, and would probably just fracture the organization creating an even bigger problem.

The Sadarist Movement, headed by Shi’a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, is the second largest group in the coalition. Since the beginning of the new political process there have been tensions between the US and his movement. At one point, his capture or death was military goal. His followers have supposedly disarmed, but the continuing violence in the area calls this claim into question. There is no way in hell that the military would go along with this guy.

The Islamic Virtue Party is a shoot-off of the Sadrist Movement, however they are rivals. In May of this year they pulled out of the government citing American interference. Not a likely ally.

The Islamic Dawa Party, is one of the oldest Shi’a parties in Iraq. Founded in the 50’s to combat all that is secular, communist and Sunni, it went to war against the Ba’thists that was quashed. This group also has ties to Iran, providing the safe haven for the Ayatollah Khomeini prior to the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Dawa leaders split with Iran in the 80’s as the result of a doctrine dispute. They have engaged in many acts of terrorism including attempted assassinations and bombings, and had a role in the Iran-Contra affair. Sounds like a no.

So if militant Shi’a’s aren’t the gooey middle, why not militant Sunni’s?

The Iraqi Accord Front consists of 3 Sunni groups; The General Council for the People of Iraq, Iraqi Islamic Party, and Iraqi National Dialogue Council. Due to the nature of politics in Iraq, there is not much known about these three groups. The Iraqi Islamic Party is the oldest of the three, established in 1960, but was pushed underground during Saddam Hussein’s reign.

Ok, I’m going to stop here. There’s really no point in going on. The remaining groups, who are not currently friendly with each other or the US government don’t provide enough political power to accomplish anything but pissing the others off. Here’s my question; does the US government REALLY want to try and negotiate with all of these groups, many of whom are sworn enemies, as opposed to talking to the countries that are supporting them? Are we really that dumb?

It is hard for me to believe that a government, that has so many ties to big money, cannot see that the best way to affect these militant Islamic groups is through their pocketbooks. One of the administration’s arguments in this whole thing is that outside elements are amplifying the problem. By negotiating with the governments who are funding and arming these groups we stand the best chance of stemming the wave of violence. Since the beginning of the occupation we have sought to weaken these groups through military action and by trying to build coalitions and that hasn’t worked. Gee, that sounds a lot like the “new” plan.

With the resignation of the Saudi Ambassador to the US, after the recent weekend getaway Cheney had with the Saudi’s, and the increasing saber rattling from Iran, it would seem that there isn’t much hope. The nations of the region have picked sides and any further degradation of conditions in Iraq, or the spill over of violence into neighboring countries would provoke their involvement, a situation that would most certainly result in a regional war.

Iran, being largely Shi’a will side with the majority of the Iraqi population. Iran already has strong ties with the majority of the current coalition government and could mobilize quickly. The Iranian army is battle tested, and any provocative movement from outside Iraq will be met with swift resistance.

The Saudi’s and the Syrians are both aligned with the Sunni’s. The Sunni population is somewhere below 20% of Iraqi’s. This population lives in one of the most sparsely populated area of Iraq. Most of the territory occupied by the Sunni’s lies on the border of Saudi Arabia and Syria. The Saudi’s will probably get their asses handed to them even if the Syrians work with them.

Our first goal NOW should be to avert a regional war then stabilize Iraq. Talking to all the neighbors is the best way to do this. A regional war will bring the deaths of tens of thousands of more Iraqi’s and will make our current casualty count triple as we either retreat, or dig in and get caught in the crossfire.

What’s the disconnect here? In a previous post I noted that the President, having lost his rubber stamp Congress in the recent election may not be willing to swallow the hard pill of defeat that Iraq has become. But is this president so hard headed and single minded that he can’t see the similarity in his former “stay the course” policy and this “new direction”. It’s madness.

As much as I don

Dec 12 2006

Crafting a National Message

Posted by Steve Ross in National Politics

As we look forward to the 110th Congress, and the already over-reported 2008 Presidential season, it is important that we start thinking about a national message that WE define and can get behind as a simple guiding philosophy.

Some of the “candidates” are already moving in one direction or another with their public appearances. Obama, for instance, seems to be going toward a message of hope. Sounds like a good start. In the coming months others will follow with their take on a vision for America.

I think we all know that slogans are just that, and without something to back up those slogans all you end up with a bunch of empty talk and wasted paper. That’s why the first month of the 110th is going to be so important. The opening of the 110th will mark our first opportunity in 12 years to legislate from the majority. What happens during this first month will set the tone, both in how the two bodies of Congress will operate, defining how the media will cover us, and will somewhat define how the voters view our ability to lead.

First impressions are everything. For the past 6 years members of the media and our opponents have consistently defined us with little or no real resistance from our leaders. Blame this on whatever you like, we let them do it. We have to take charge of our image. In order to do this we have to come up with something that defines us as a whole without fracturing the party. I submit the following for your consideration:

Building a Stronger America
Restoring America
Working for American families

These all work for me, but as I stated above, slogans don’t mean much if you don’t have anything to back it up. It’s our job as citizens of this nation to hold our representatives in D.C. accountable. We need to stay on them like a cheap suit, and make sure that they are really doing their job; otherwise we can expect to find ourselves in the minority in 2008, swearing in President-elect Guiliani.

I say this, not to be a concern troll, but to highlight the reality of our current fragile majority. See, from my perspective, even though we waged an impressive national campaign this year, we benefited from the Republican Party’s internal strife. I won’t go so far as to say that we didn’t win as much as they lost, but I can see where some may feel that way. Additionally, freshman incumbents in the House will not have the luxury of experience, time, nor long term fundraising as they may in future years. It takes a long time to build that kind of political machine.

We need a real plan to keep this baby healthy. I don’t claim to know exactly how to do this, but I don’t see it happening on a national level right now and that worries me going forward. Hopefully, much of this anxiety will be calmed with the beginning of the next Congress, but until then, I won’t need a manicure, because I’m biting my nails to the quick.

Dec 01 2006

CFR: Building North America or Breaking the Middle Class?

Posted by Steve Ross in National Politics, Policy

Ed note: I posted this earlier on DKos. This is mostly a test post to make sure that I know what the hell I’m doing for the future. Thanks!

Last night at my weekly Drinking Liberally soiree, I was presented with the introduction of a policy paper authored by the Council on Foreign Relations. The document, entitled Building a North American Community describes ways for the nations of our continent to come together ostensibly for greater security and economic development. The introduction, while vague, immediately left me with some reservations. My first question: What about the middle class?

This morning I decided I needed to read the entire report for myself. You can find it here.

This topic is old news, but it got little play outside of the wingnut-o-shpere of John Birchers and other xenophobes, oh and Lou Dobbs. Within that discussion, little or no mention of how this could affect the middle class going forward has been discussed. Indeed, even in the report itself, there is no real dialogue concerning the fate of the American middle class under the proposed arrangement, with the exception of Chappell H. Lawson of MIT. In his endorsement of the draft, Lawson points out some critical flaws:

“I am concerned that the report pays to little attention to how the costs of regional integration might be alleviated and how the benefits of integration might be more equally distributed. As a result, the Task Force appears to be proposing a form of integration that will generate large numbers of losers as well as winners.” (p. 38)

And later:

“…the report appears to accept the assumption that economic integration always benefits average people. This assumption must be tempered by an understanding of how integration often plays out in the real world.” (p. 38)

Lawson’s fears are borne out in an opinion piece in the LA Times from October 30, 2006 by former Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers detailing the plight of middle class earners in the 13 years since the passage of NAFTA. The piece entitled Globalization Anxiety brings forward an important issue facing middle class earners, both in the United States and abroad as a result of free trade initiatives:

“Low-cost labor — ordinary, middle-class workers and their employers, whether they live in the American Midwest, Germany’s Ruhr Valley, Latin America or Eastern Europe — are left out. This is the essential reason why median family incomes lag far below productivity growth in the United States, why average family incomes in Mexico have barely grown in the 13 years since NAFTA passed and why middle-income countries without natural resources struggle to define an area of comparative advantage.”

But perhaps the most important flaw with free trade, is no adequate check or balance to protect labor in either country involved in the agreement. Jeff Faux illustrates this in his article from The American Prospect, entitled, How NAFTA failed Mexico. In this article Faux notes,

“NAFTA provided no social contract. It offered neither aid for Mexico nor labor, health or environmental standards. The agreement protected corporate investors; everyone else was on his or her own. Indeed, NAFTA is the nation-building template imposed on developing countries by recent corporate-dominated U.S. administrations and their client international finance agencies.”

Later Faux details the impact of this absence of oversight in the rapid decay of Mexico’s middle class:

“NAFTA’s critics did not doubt that it would stimulate more trade; that was, after all, its function. Rather, they predicted that any benefits would go largely to the rich while the middle class and the poor would pay the costs, and that the promised growth would not materialize. They were right. NAFTA is not the cause of all Mexico’s economic troubles, but it has clearly made them worse. Since NAFTA’s inception in 1994 — indeed, for the 20 years of neoliberal “reform” — the Mexican middle class has shrunk and the number of poor has expanded. Economic growth has been below the old corporatist economy’s performance and substantially less than what is needed to generate jobs for Mexico’s growing labor force.”

The song is quite the same for the American middle class. According to a report by the Economic Policy Institute, the median income in the United States has dropped 5.4% for non-elderly households since 2000 despite an economic recovery and continued productivity gains. Source.

So, if NAFTA has offered little or no benefit to workers, both in the United States and in Mexico, why is the Council on Foreign Relations pimping what amounts to an unfettered expansion of globalization efforts in North America?

Unfortunately, that’s not the right question. The right question is; In the fifth year of an “economic recovery”, with continued productivity increases, and median income decreases, why aren’t we doing more to shore up the middle class, both here, and in neighboring countries, by adding fair labor, health and environmental standards to NAFTA?

The answer to this is simple; the middle class has no cohesive voice, and as such, though we constitute the vast majority of the population in the United States, we have, as a group, ceded control of our future to those who have no interest in us other than our buying power, which is steadily decreasing as a general statement. This slow, downward spiral will turn into a steep tailspin, tipping the already fragile balance in Mexico, and fermenting a full scale, hot, class war in the United States…

Or, we’ll just sit back, crack open another container of Dibs, and watch re-runs of Seinfeld on TV…

Seriously, unfettered free trade zones, in the absence of any real labor, health or environmental standards, guarantees a slow and painful death for the middle class in North America. The group that helped build the worldwide perception of America as a land of unlimited opportunity will suffer this fate at the hands of an ever shrinking group of multinational corporations, that we largely helped build, but who answer to no one but their shareholders.

Globalization, on it’s own, is not singularly to blame.

Free trade can benefit all of us, as long as it’s fair trade.

Fair trade, while complicated, is possible if there is ample will of the people to make it an international priority, and like so many other things, it needs to start here, in the United States.

We have the bully pulpit of being the consumers of the world. We have a moral responsibility, as the world’s largest consumers, to help build up our trading partners instead of merely taking advantage of their weaknesses. We have a fiscal responsibility to our citizens, to protect and enhance their financial situation. But most importantly, we are the United States of America, and if we can’t even ensure a brighter financial future for our own people, how the hell can we expect anything but a slow and gradual return to the labor practices of the early Industrial Revolution era, marked by company stores, 80 hour work weeks, rampant child labor and widespread poverty…

Maybe we’re already half way there.