We've got a new "Think Again" column here called "Getting Iraq Right," which is particularly relevant in light of the below. And today's Why We're Liberals item is this lovely kvetch by Tim Graham, who, if I am not mistaken, is employed by Brent Bozell. In this post he breaks the story that Stephen Colbert is not really a conservative, he only plays one on TV. Why did no one ever tell me this before? Anyway, this is my favorite line: "This raises the natural rebuttal: If Jesus were a liberal, why wouldn't liberals take orders from Him?"
Um, Tim, I'll be glad to help you on that one: Because we don't take orders from anyone with regard to what to think. We think for ourselves. See under "Enlightenment, The."
(Also, I know it's unfair to pick on commenters -- conservatives do it all the time, but we don't -- still I find this comment quite funny:
Jonathan Altermann does not believe that God is the "author of life".
In the first place, the guy manages to get my first name wrong and my last name misspelled; that's two -- count 'em, two -- mistakes in two words. Second, this joker has absolutely no idea what I think about the origin of life since I've never discussed it publicly nor have written a single word about it. And yet he states my views as fact. While we're at it, he also puts his period outside the quotation mark. Anyway, the Colbert episode is here.)
Here is an in-depth Times report on Basra, of the kind for which we need to be thankful that we still have a newspaper industry of sorts, but we need to be critically thankful. In it, we learn that U.S. strategy is still basically one of ignorance and screw-ups, and the Iraqis, five years after "Mission Accomplished," remain both politically and militarily dysfunctional. If this so-called "surge" is so successful, why is absolutely everything such a mess there? Just what are our soldiers dying (and killing) for again? Let's look at some highlights:
[T]he Iraqi operation was not what the United States expected. Instead of methodically building up their combat power and gradually stepping up operations against renegade militias, Mr. Maliki's forces lunged into the city, attacking before all of the Iraqi reinforcements had even arrived. By the following Tuesday, a major fight was on.
"The sense we had was that this would be a long-term effort: increased pressure gradually squeezing the Special Groups," Mr. Crocker said in an interview, using the American term for Iranian-backed militias. "That is not what kind of emerged."
"Nothing was in place from our side," he added. "It all had to be put together."
[I]nterviews with a wide range of American and military officials also suggest that Mr. Maliki overestimated his military's abilities and underestimated the scale of the resistance. The Iraqi prime minister also displayed an impulsive leadership style that did not give his forces or that of his most powerful allies, the American and British military, time to prepare.
"He went in with a stick and he poked a hornet's nest, and the resistance he got was a little bit more than he bargained for," said one official in the multinational force in Baghdad who requested anonymity. "They went in with 70 percent of a plan. Sometimes that's enough. This time it wasn't."
As the Iraqi military and civilian casualties grew and the Iraqi planning appeared to be little more than an improvisation, the United States mounted an intensive military and political effort to try to turn around the situation, according to accounts by Mr. Crocker and several American military officials in Baghdad and Washington who spoke on condition of anonymity.
[Crocker said,] "I have not found any element of the Iraqi government that will admit to being consulted."
"It was a unilateral decision by Maliki," said an American official familiar with the session. "It was a fait accompli." For the Americans, the timing was not good. The American military had little interest in seeing a hastily conceived operation that might open a new front and tempt Mr. Sadr to annul his cease-fire, which had contributed to the striking reduction in attacks over the past several months. Mr. Crocker and General Petraeus were also scheduled to testify to Congress the next month on the fragile political and security gains achieved in Iraq.
How do the Bush apologists and enablers of failure react to such news? Check out the Wall Street Journal op-ed by one of the top surge protectors, Kimberly Kagan, to whose family this war has all-but-been outsourced. Her strategy is to blame Iran (and you know where that leads with these people ...).
What is Daniel Henninger's strategy here? It is to attack the patriotism of his opponents, naturally, for what he insists is a liberal "loser" mentality. What a tough-minded liberal might point out in this situation is the fact that the conservatives are the ones who "lost" this war and now they want to keep American soldiers fighting and dying because they lack the guts to face up to their failure, much less their responsibility for much purposeless death and destruction.
"It's very hard to be neutral. People laugh at us because we call ourselves 'Fair and Balanced.' Fact is, CNN, who's always been extremely liberal, never had a Republican or conservative voice on it. The only difference is that we have equal voices on both sides but that seems to have upset a lot of liberals. ... The more voices the better."
Oh, I see. Robert Novak is a liberal Democrat. William Bennett is a liberal Democrat. Tucker Carlson is a liberal Democrat. Jonah Goldberg is a liberal Democrat. OK, so the guy is a business genius. Politically, he's an idiot. Or else he thinks you're one. It's here.
This is the kind of thing that helps sow hatred among people, dontcha think?
Someone wake the agencies: For the second time, the Environmental Protection Agency is being sued in an effort to get the agency to actually do its job:
Today, officials from 18 states and a number of environmental groups, filed a petition to force the EPA to do what the Supreme Court said one year ago. In the landmark ruling -- itself the result of a lawsuit against the EPA -- the court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency had the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, and that it had to act. Except it didn't.
It's become clear that the EPA staff did, in fact, do the work to determine the agency's response. But EPA chief Stephen Johnson and the White House put a lid on it last December, and since then nothing has happened -- except that Johnson has deployed a succession of transparent delaying tactics.
Oh, and remember all those FEC complaints that were filed against John McCain? Well don't hold your breath for a resolution on that matter, or any matter involving public financing or a wide array of election-related issues during this, you know, presidential election campaign. Why? There isn't really an FEC right now!
[B]ecause of a congressional standoff over confirming new members, the FEC is now operating with just two members out of the six it is supposed to have. This means that, in addition to being frozen on public financing, the FEC is unable to write regulations, launch enforcement actions or issue advisory opinions. ... The reason for the logjam is that Senate Democrats have opposed confirming the pending Republican nominee, Hans A. von Spakovsky, because of concern about his actions on voting rights while he was a Justice Department official. Republicans, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), have refused to hold separate up-or-down votes on all four nominees for fear that Mr. von Spakovsky would lose -- and they would be outnumbered at an unavoidably political agency that is supposed to be equally divided between the two parties.
That the party elected to run the government is currently unconcerned with running large parts of the government should be made into a pretty large issue by liberals. But, as one of my new favorite books argues, liberals should be sure to frame their protests around the lost goals of these shuttered agencies, not simply the loss of the agency itself. In other words, the argument should be that "conservatives are uninterested in fair elections and protecting the environment," not "conservatives are uninterested in operating the FEC and the EPA and some other alphabet-soup agencies." Government can be the means to ends that we're all concerned about - ends that are currently suffering a great deal.
The sun rises.
Bill Moyers Journal takes viewers on the ground in the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- a country almost one-fourth the size of the U.S. -- to follow aid workers and local relief efforts that are bringing hope to a forgotten land. "The aid agencies are almost substituting for a social welfare system that hasn't operated in these areas for decades," says Dominic MacSorley, Emergency Director for Concern Worldwide, an international aid organization. The broadcast profiles an innovative program that employs locals to bike food to remote areas. "The spirit of the people ... hasn't dampened," says MacSorley. "The future for this country should be much, much brighter than it is."
Hometown: Kennesaw, Georgia
Unlike you, I did take advantage of an Adjustable Rate Mortgage a few years ago. When we bought our current home, however, we shopped around until we found a fixed rate Mortgage because it seemed to me that interest rates tied to T-bills were going to rise. I feel like my family and I did very well for ourselves.
I generally agree with your proposition that there should be no bail-out of irresponsible home buyers. Even if they fell for the line -- one which I heard from multiple sources -- that they could just refinance when or if the interest rates went up too high.
I don't feel "financially literate" but that line never made sense to me. How could I refinance to a fixed rate which was bound to be higher than the rising adjustable rate?
During our shopping I got offers which were completely outlandish -- if not criminal. One Mortgage Broker offered me a deal that started at a very low rate, which stayed flat for 3 years. He tried to keep the rest of the picture hidden, and if I had let him I would not have found out until it was too late that the remaining 27 years of the Mortgage were written so that the rate could go up every 6 months. There was no mechanism for the rate to adjust down, ever.
It does not surprise me that some people got caught in such loans believing they could just refinance out of those incredible terms.
Even so, those "victims" don't really deserve to be bailed out. The one proviso I keep coming back to, though, is that if so many people default on their mortgages, and that wave of houses come onto the market at fire-sale prices, what happens to the relative value of my house?
My self interest makes me want something done to prevent that occasion.
Normally I would agree that it's a bad idea to bail out borrowers who have gotten themselves in trouble through their own foolishness. However, this is not a normal situation. The mortgage crisis is having an effect on the entire economy, not just on those who accepted loan terms they couldn't afford.
To use an analogy, if a passenger on a boat drills a hole in his cabin floor, it's not just his cabin that will sink. It's in the interest of all on board to patch the hole.
Come on, Eric, you're a PhD. Let's cut the vulnerable and uneducated some slack here.
There are numerous heavily-documented abuses in the mortgage system (many of them criminal) that took advantage of these low-information home buyers.
It was only predictable if you had the time and cognitive skills to put it all in context. Most of these people didn't, and to blame them isn't much different from blaming the residents of New Orleans who didn't evacuate during Katrina.
This is, after all, why we're liberals.
So, at least a portion of the mortgage mess is due to ARM -- those happy little products that were advocated as friendly devices by folks as high up the food chain as the man who printed our money -- your favorite Randian and mine -- Alan Greenspan (seriously, how does a man enthralled by a loon rise so high in our society?)
But others have been ensnared as well; home prices were rising so fast in some key markets -- like my home city of Miami, FL -- that people purchased homes with fixed rate mortgages and sat back to watch their equity grow due to home price appreciation. The backside of that is home prices have fallen so far many people now owe more on their homes than they are worth.
Some of those folks are making the decision to walk and that leads to foreclosure; and that rebounds on every other home in the vicinity -- especially in condo properties.
Before I would wash my hands of people facing such this situation, I might want someone -- preferably one of the elected representatives or appointed executives whose job it is to make sure things like this do not happen -- does some work on determining the proper solution.
And if that means bailout, I am all for it. We are all in the same boat.
I agree wholeheartedly with your comments regarding the situation in the Middle East. It was obvious to me that you had taken no position on the righteousness of any party, or on a suitable resolution, and never did you purport to lay blame or have the answers.
Rather, you simply pointed out that conflicts can sometimes be solved, or at least eased, by attempting to understand the position of the other party. Too often we prefer to demonize and marginalize our opponents, instead of trying to assess and maybe even address some of their legitimate concerns.
This phenomenon is, unfortunately, not limited to the Middle East. Witness the hysteria when Mr. Obama said he would talk to Cuba, or other countries.
Many former politicians during the Vietnam era, including the former Secretary of Defence, have concluded that the Vietnam war could have been largely avoided had American leaders taken the time to understand that the VietCong were nationalists before they were communists, and had no interest in the ambitions of China or the USSR. For anyone doubting this, I highly recommend the documentry, "Fog of War."
Since when is talking a bad thing? How can additional information and understanding possibly hurt? Maybe people should actually try talking to someone with a different viewpoint and actually listening to what they have to say? It seems to me that we as a society, and in this I include myself, are way too eager to pass judgment and deal death from our living room couches.
Finally, as this is always relevant in these sorts of discussions, I am indeed a Jew. As well, please note that I have not advocated anything besides an intelligent and informed conversation and debate on the Israel-Palestine conflict, as I understand Mr. Alterman was doing as well.
For those of you who oppose such a debate, and see no use for a silly thing like context, obviously your mind is already made up. I am truly sorry for you, but some of the rest of us would actually like to consider whether there might actually be a way to end this never-ending war.
Sorry to see that you were attacked for pointing out the obvious deficiencies in the Times' article about Hamas' propaganda. Your commentary pretty much echoed what went through my head beforehand as I was reading said article. Keep up the good work.
Mr. Alterman -- I know I am preaching to the choir, but liberals have championed voting rights, civil rights, the environment, health care and the working class. Conservatives have fought against every single one of these issues. Shouldn't conservative be the dirty word? Shouldn't newspapers be writing articles about McCain and the L-Word? But instead McCain's problem in the election won't be that he is too conservative, but that he isn't conservative enough. Something is just terribly wrong with this.