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Friday, March 30, 2007

Many Plans, No News - New York Times

Many Plans, No News - New York Times

March 30, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist

Many Plans, No News

In the Middle East today, home of the invention of algebra, a new math seems to have taken over. It is subtraction by addition. It goes like this: Add more trips to the region by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — who doesn’t seem to have any coherent strategy — to an emotionally stale, restated Saudi peace overture to Israel, and combine it with a cynical Hamas-Fatah cease-fire accord and an Israeli prime minister so unpopular his poll ratings are now lower than the margin of error, and you’ll find that we’re actually going backward — way back, back to the pre-Oslo era.

Only the bad guys make history in the Middle East today. Only the bad guys have imagination and resolve. Arab, Palestinian and Israeli “moderates” are just watching. Their leaders have never been weaker, and America has never been more feckless in framing clear choices to spur them to action.

We could be and should be doing better. Nearly seven years ago, President Bill Clinton put forward something called the “Clinton plan” for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. For the first time, the U.S. laid out its own detailed design of a fair deal between the parties. That plan called for Israel to give up 95 percent of the West Bank, Gaza and Arab East Jerusalem; for Palestinian refugees to be able to return to Palestinian areas but not to Israel; for the most populated Jewish settlements around Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to remain in place and the others to be removed; and for Palestinians to be compensated for those settlements with land swaps and other arrangements from Israel.

Yes, Yasir Arafat rejected it at the time, and even the Israelis never fully embraced the plan as it was, but everyone knew then and knows now that the Clinton plan is the only realistic framework for peace. The Bush team took the view that since Arafat wouldn’t accept it, the Clinton plan was a dead letter and therefore could be and should be forever sidelined. They also put themselves on the sidelines of Arab-Israeli diplomacy for six years, rather than sell anything with the name “Clinton” on it.

So instead of constantly telling the parties that the Clinton plan was the only viable basis for peace, and that U.S. diplomacy would be devoted to building a context for Palestinians and Israelis to act on that plan and a U.S. team to execute it, President Bush gave us scattershot visits by his secretaries of state and minimalist, stopgap measures to engineer cease-fires or talks about talks. Who can name them? “The Mitchell plan,” “the quartet,” “the Zinni mission,” “the Tenet plan,” “the road map,” the “two plus four plus four framework” and soon the “six plus two” framework.

You can make fun all you want of Bill Clinton’s “naïve” Middle East peace passion, notes Mr. Clinton’s top negotiator, Dennis Ross, but the fact is four times more Israelis and Palestinians died fighting each other during the “realistic,” “pro-Israel,” sideline-sitting Bush years of 2001 to 2005 than in the “naïve” decade of intense U.S. peacemaking — dominated by President Clinton — from Madrid to Oslo, 1991 to 2000.

Had the Bush-Rice team stuck with the Clinton plan, today, at a minimum, it would have been locked in as the only acceptable formula for peace, and at a maximum we might have gotten there. But the Bush philosophy seems to have been: “A.B.C. — anything but Clinton,” said Gidi Grinstein, who heads Reut Institute, Israel’s premier strategy policy group. “But by not endorsing the Clinton parameters, we are back with plans that are much worse.”

Indeed, all that is on the table now is the restated Saudi peace initiative, calling for full peace with Israel after full withdrawal and justice for Palestinian refugees — with no maps, details or Arab plan for how to pursue it with Israel. And we have the Saudi-brokered Mecca peace accord between Hamas and Fatah, which doesn’t even acknowledge Israel.

If you read the Mecca agreement, said Mr. Ross, “Israel appears only as an adjective, not as a noun. Israel only appears in the agreement modifying words like ‘aggression’ and ‘occupation,’ but never appears as a noun — much less as a state to be recognized.”

That is what happens when America leaves a vacuum. Others fill it with peace plans that fit their needs first and the needs of a real peace second.

The Bush team reminds me of someone who buys a rundown house that comes with remodeling plans by Frank Lloyd Wright, but insists instead on using drawings submitted by the next-door neighbors. You get what you pay for. Or what you don’t pay for.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Troika and the Surge - New York Times

The Troika and the Surge - New York Times

March 21, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist

The Troika and the Surge

President Bush’s Iraq surge policy is about a month old now, and there is only one thing you can say about it for certain: no matter what anyone in Congress, the military or the public has to say, it’s going ahead. The president has the authority to do it and the veto power to prevent anyone from stopping him. Therefore, there’s only one position to have on the surge anymore: hope that it works.

Does this mean that Democrats in Congress who are trying to shut down the war and force a deadline should take the advice of critics and shut up and let the surge play out?

No, just the opposite. I would argue that for the first time we have — by accident — the sort of balanced policy trio that had we had it in place four years go might have spared us the mess of today. It’s the Pelosi-Petraeus-Bush troika.

I hope the Democrats, under Speaker Nancy Pelosi, keep pushing to set a deadline for withdrawal from Iraq, because they are providing two patriotic services that the Republicans failed to offer in the previous four years: The first is policy discipline. Had Republicans spent the previous four years regularly questioning Don Rumsfeld’s ignorant bromides and demanding that the White House account for failures in Iraq, we might have had the surge in 2003 — when it was obvious we did not have enough troops on the ground — rather than in 2007, when the chances of success are much diminished.

Because the Republicans controlled the House and Senate, and because many conservatives sat in mute silence the last four years, the administration could too easily ignore its critics and drag out policies in Iraq that were not working. With the Democrats back in Congressional control, that is no longer possible.

The other useful function Speaker Pelosi and her colleagues are performing is to give the president and Gen. David Petraeus, our commander in Iraq, the leverage of a deadline without a formal deadline. How so? The surge can’t work without political reconciliation among Iraqi factions, which means Sunni-Shiite negotiations — and such negotiations are unlikely to work without America having the “leverage” of telling the parties that if they don’t compromise, we will leave. (Deadlines matter. At some point, Iraqis have to figure this out themselves.)

Since Mr. Bush refuses to set a deadline, Speaker Pelosi is the next best thing. Do not underestimate how useful it is for General Petraeus to be able to say to Iraqi politicians: “Look guys, Pelosi’s mad as hell — and she has a big following! I don’t want to quit, but Americans won’t stick with this forever. I only have a few months.”

Speaker Pelosi: Keep the heat on.

As for General Petraeus, I have no idea whether his military strategy is right, but at least he has one — and he has stated that by “late summer” we should know if it’s working. As General Petraeus told the BBC last week, “I have an obligation to the young men and women in uniform out here, that if I think it’s not going to happen, to tell them that it’s not going to happen, and there needs to be a change.”

We need to root for General Petraeus to succeed, and hold him to those words if he doesn’t — not only for the sake of the soldiers on the ground, but also so that Mr. Bush is not allowed to drag the war out until the end of his term, and then leave it for his successor to unwind.

But how will General Petraeus or Congress judge if the surge is working? It may be obvious, but it may not be. It will likely require looking beneath the surface calm of any Iraqi neighborhood — where violence has been smothered by the surge of U.S. troops — and trying to figure out: what will happen here when those U.S. troops leave? Remember, enough U.S. troops can quiet any neighborhood for a while. The real test is whether a self-sustaining Iraqi army and political consensus are being put in place that can hold after we leave.

It will also likely require asking: Are the Shiite neighborhoods quieting down as a result of reconciliation or because their forces are just lying low so the U.S. will focus on whacking the Sunnis — in effect, carrying out the civil war on the Shiites’ behalf, so that when we leave they can dominate more easily?

When you’re sitting on a volcano, it is never easy to tell exactly what is happening underneath — or what will happen if you move. But those are the judgments we may soon have to make. In the meantime, since Bush is going to be Bush, let Pelosi be Pelosi and Petraeus be Petraeus — and hope for the best. For now, we don’t have much choice.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Marching With a Mouse - New York Times

Marching With a Mouse - New York Times

March 16, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist

Marching With a Mouse

There aren’t a lot of environmental groups with their own investment bank consultants, so when you hear that Environmental Defense has just hired the boutique Wall Street firm Perella Weinberg Partners, you know that we’re in a new world. Every college activist should study this story, because it is the future. In the old days, when activists wanted something done, they held a sit-in or organized a protest march. Now they hire an investment bank.

O.K., maybe every activist group can’t afford Goldman Sachs, but such groups should nevertheless analyze how Environmental Defense and the Natural Resources Defense Council used the Internet and the market to save the planet from tons of CO2. The story started last year when a giant Texas power company, TXU, announced plans to build 11 coal-fired, CO2-belching power plants, raising the ire of environmentalists worried about climate change. Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense, which has an office in Texas, wrote to John Wilder, TXU’s chairman, and asked for a meeting, but was brushed off. TXU made it clear that it was on a fast track to build its plants and had the governor of Texas on its side.

Talk about not knowing what world you’re living in.

So Environmental Defense and its allies turned to the Web and created the Stoptxu.com Web site, which put out regular electronic newsletters on the TXU plans and built a national constituency opposed to the deal. They also took TXU to court.

None of that might have been enough, though, had the big buyout firms Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Texas Pacific Group not teamed up to offer to buy TXU in February — a deal valued at $45 billion that would be the biggest leveraged buyout ever. But there was a catch: “The buyers did not want to take over a company enmeshed in a war with environmentalists,” Mr. Krupp said, “so they came to us and said, ‘We only want to go forward if you and NRDC will praise what we are trying to do here.’ ” Mr. Krupp and NRDC were ready to engage, but only if the deal could be made more climate-friendly.

“The negotiations involved talks over 10 days,” Mr. Krupp said, “and the key session was compressed into 17 hours in the Oriental hotel in San Francisco from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. the next morning.”

Eventually, the private equity group agreed to cut the number of new TXU coal plants from 11 to 3, to support a U.S. cap on greenhouse gas emissions and to commit TXU to plowing $400 million into energy-efficiency programs and doubling its purchase of wind power. In return, the environmentalists blessed the deal, but Mr. Krupp also hired Perella Weinberg to negotiate the fine print.

That is a pretty good day’s work for people who had no money on the table. There are a lot of lessons here.

First, Mr. Krupp said, “what is the message when the largest buyout in history is made contingent [by the buyers] on winning praise for its greenhouse gas plan? ... The markets are ahead of the politicians. The world has changed, and these guys see it.”

TXU not only didn’t understand that the world was getting green; it didn’t understand that the world was getting flat. “Going online,” Mr. Krupp said, “we shifted this from a local debate over generating electricity to a national debate over capping and reducing carbon emissions.” So, what TXU had hoped would be just a local skirmish was instead watched on computer screens in every global market.

The Internet age is an age of transparency, when more people than ever can see right into your business and judge you by your deeds, not words. TXU could not manage its reputation by just hiring a P.R. firm and issuing a statement — because, thanks to the Internet, too many little people could talk back or shape TXU’s image on a global basis through the Web, for free.

“The reputations of companies are going to be less determined by the quality of their P.R. people and more by their actual actions — and that empowers more of an honest debate on the merits,” said Mr. Krupp, adding, “It’s just harder to keep bad environmental news secret and expect the public to sit on its hands in the Internet era.”

Message to young activists: If you do your homework, have your facts right and the merits on your side, and then build a constituency for your ideals through the Internet, you, too, can be at the table of the biggest deal in history. Or as Mr. Krupp puts it: the TXU example shows that truth plus passion plus the Internet “can create an irresistible tide for change.”

Paul Krugman is off today.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Indentured Servants in America - New York Times

Indentured Servants in America - New York Times

March 12, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist

Indentured Servants in America

A must-read for anyone who favors an expansion of guest worker programs in the U.S. is a stunning new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center that details the widespread abuse of highly vulnerable, poverty-stricken workers in programs that already exist.

The report is titled “Close to Slavery: Guestworker Programs in the United States.” It will be formally released today at a press conference in Washington.

Workers recruited from Mexico, South America, Asia and elsewhere to work in American hotels and in such labor-intensive industries as forestry, seafood processing and construction are often ruthlessly exploited.

They are routinely cheated out of their wages, which are low to begin with. They are bound like indentured servants to the middlemen and employers who arrange their work tours in the U.S. And they are virtual hostages of the American companies that employ them.

The law does not allow these “guests” to change jobs while they’re here. If a particular employer is unscrupulous, as is very often the case, the worker has little or no recourse.

One of the guest workers profiled in the report was a psychology student recruited in the Dominican Republic to work at a hotel in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The woman had taken on $4,000 in debt to cover “fees” and other expenses that were required for her to get a desk job that paid $6 an hour.

But after a month, her hours were steadily reduced until she was working only 15 or 20 hours a week. That left her with barely enough money to survive, and with no way of paying off her crushing debt.

The woman and her fellow guest workers had hardly enough money for food. “We would just buy Chinese food because it was the cheapest,” she said. “We would buy one plate a day and share it between two or three people.” She told the authors of the report: “I felt like an animal without claws — defenseless. It is the same as slavery.”

Steven Greenhouse of The Times recently reported on a waiter from Indonesia who took on $6,000 in debt to become a guest worker. He arrived in North Carolina expecting to do farm work but found that there was no job for him at all.

The report focused primarily on the 120,000 foreign workers who are allowed into the U.S. each year to work on farms or at other low-skilled jobs. In most cases the guest workers take on a heavy debt load to participate in the program, anywhere from $500 to more than $10,000. Worried about the welfare of their families back home, and with the huge debt hanging over their heads, the workers are most often docile, even in the face of the most egregious treatment.

The result, said the report, is that they are “systematically exploited and abused.”

Some of the worst abuses occur in the forestry industry. The report said, “Virtually every forestry company that the Southern Poverty Law Center has encountered provides workers with pay stubs showing that they have worked substantially fewer hours than they actually worked.”

A favorite (and extremely cruel) tactic of employers is the seizure of guest workers’ identity documents, such as passports and Social Security cards. That leaves the workers incredibly vulnerable.

“Numerous employers have refused to return these documents even when the worker simply wanted to return to his home country,” the report said. “The Southern Poverty Law Center also has encountered numerous incidents where employers destroyed passports or visas in order to convert workers into undocumented status.”

Without their papers the workers live in abject fear of encountering the authorities, who will treat them as illegals. They are completely at the mercy of the employers.

President Bush has been relentless in his push to greatly expand guest worker programs as part of his effort to revise the nation’s immigration laws. To expand these programs without looking closely at the gruesome abuses already taking place would be both tragic and ridiculous.

“This is not a situation where there are just a few bad-apple employers,” said Mary Bauer, director of the Immigrant Justice Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has initiated a number of lawsuits on behalf of abused workers. “Our experience is that it’s the very structure of the program that lends itself to abuse.”

Early Primary Rush Upends ’08 Campaign Plans - New York Times

Early Primary Rush Upends ’08 Campaign Plans - New York Times

March 12, 2007

Early Primary Rush Upends ’08 Campaign Plans

WASHINGTON, March 9 — The trickle of states moving their 2008 presidential primaries to Feb. 5 has turned into an avalanche, forcing all the presidential campaigns to reconsider every aspect of their nominating strategy — where to compete, how to spend money, when to start television advertising — as they gird for the prospect of a 20-state national Primary Day.

In the last two weeks, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, dispatched the director of his political action committee to run his primary campaign in California, where a bill to move the primary to Feb. 5 is on the desk of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. John Edwards, the North Carolina Democrat, announced that he had won the endorsement of Richard J. Codey, a former acting governor of New Jersey, testimony to the state’s new status as it readies to shift its primary to Feb. 5 from June.

Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, held a rally the other day in Texas, and aides to Rudolph W. Giuliani, the New York Republican, said staff members would be sent to California, Florida and Missouri, as both candidates prepare for expected Feb. 5 primaries in those states.

“It’s becoming a brush fire out there,” Mr. Obama said in an interview.

Mr. McCain, remarking on the difference from the last time he ran for president, suggested that the front-loaded primary day was not a good development. “I don’t think there’s enough exposure of the candidates the way that there used to be, having to go state by state by state over a long period of time,” he said.

For the most part, the candidates and their aides cannot quite figure out what all this turmoil means for them. The changes, which are shaping up to be the most substantial alteration ever to a campaign calendar in a single election cycle, have heightened the volatility of the most wide-open presidential race in 50 years, one with large and well-financed fields of contenders.

Aides to the candidates said they were debating whether the changes would mean that the nominations would effectively be settled on Feb. 5, by which point easily 50 percent of the delegates are likely to have been chosen, or whether a few strong candidates would divide the Feb. 5 take, forcing the campaign to stretch on for months. That could, oddly enough, make those fewer states sticking to later primaries vital players in the election cycle.

The changes are forcing candidates to decide whether Iowa and New Hampshire, two states with contests before Feb. 5, will become more influential as contenders look for early victories to give them momentum. And with as many as 23 states voting on a single day — more states than are typically considered competitive in a general election — candidates must decide which ones to ignore, given the demands on their time and bank accounts.

“This primary season is turning into the most challenging Rubik’s Cube that we’ve faced in our lifetime,” said Benjamin L. Ginsberg, the counsel to Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts who is seeking the Republican nomination, and one of his party’s leading experts on election law, pointing to the calendar, the fund-raising demands and the absence of a front-runner in either party.

For Democrats, the prospect of a mega-primary has created a new calculation about the importance of black voters, already a constituency being fiercely courted by Mr. Obama, who is seeking to become the nation’s first black president, and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. There are hardly any black voters in Iowa and New Hampshire; by contrast, they could play an important role in California, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey and New York.

The early primary drive is the latest evidence of the national parties’ continuing decline in influence over the nominating process. A Democratic Party effort to force states and candidates to abide by the calendar, with threats of refusing to seat delegates chosen by states that defy its rules, seems doomed to fail, with candidates and states saying they will ignore it.

The developments have stirred despair among some Democratic National Committee officials, who pushed through a new calendar this year that sought to dilute the influence of Iowa and New Hampshire by letting Nevada and South Carolina hold nominating contests before Feb. 5. Nevada’s Democratic caucus will be five days after the Jan. 14 Iowa caucus, and South Carolina’s primary will be at least a week after the Jan. 22 New Hampshire primary.

Donna Brazile, one of the Democratic Party leaders involved in pushing through those changes, said she believed that Iowa and New Hampshire were now more powerful than ever because of the move toward Feb. 5. “I am very alarmed,” Ms. Brazile said. “This is the opposite of what we are trying to do.”

But Tom McMahon, the executive director of the Democratic Party, said in an interview that having Nevada and South Carolina go earlier had allowed the party to achieve its main goal. “We’ve been able to insert diversity where diversity didn’t occur before,” Mr. McMahon said, “and we are able to preserve more small states to allow more candidates to get into this.”

With 11 months before the Iowa caucuses, what is most striking, campaign officials said, is just how much uncertainty there is about this most fundamental part of a campaign: when people are going to vote. The National Association of Secretaries of State reported that 23 states were either considering moving to Feb. 5 or certain to do so. But that number changes daily as bills move between legislative committees and to governors’ desks.

The importance of Iowa and New Hampshire has emerged as one of the critical questions for the campaigns.

Some analysts said the winners in the early states would emerge with so much momentum and favorable news media attention that they would dominate the national primary to follow and lay claim to their party’s nomination, much the way Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts captured the Democratic nomination in 2004 after his victories in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But others said having a 20-state primary a week later would allow candidates who performed weakly in the early states to rebound, particularly if they had the advantage of money or name recognition.

Mr. Giuliani’s aides suggested they might not spend as much time and money in Iowa and New Hampshire as other candidates, given his potential strength on Feb. 5 in places like California and New Jersey, two states with a more moderate electorate than Iowa and South Carolina.

“We have the ability to play the game a little differently,” said Mike DuHaime, who is running Mr. Giuliani’s campaign. “It’s not a matter of saying the early states aren’t important, because they are. It is just a matter of realizing that, unlike past primaries, there are many more states this year that will help decide the nominee.”

Terry Nelson, Mr. McCain’s campaign manager, said Mr. Giuliani’s campaign appeared to have adopted what he called a Feb. 5 strategy, which he said could be a dangerous miscalculation by ignoring the states deciding before then. “It doesn’t diminish the influence and impact of the earlier states,” Mr. Nelson said of the shift to Feb. 5, “because it’s going to be very difficult for any campaign to build the resources you need to compete in all of these states.”

On the Democratic side, aides to Mr. Edwards are hoping for big victories in Iowa and South Carolina to make up for any advantage Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama have because they are so much better known and may prove to be more effective at raising money.

There is near-universal agreement among officials of both parties that the new calendar will give a huge advantage to well-known candidates, in particular Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Giuliani, Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama. Beyond that, California and New Jersey are likely to be more receptive to Mr. Giuliani than are Iowa and South Carolina, with their many conservative voters.

The uncertainty goes beyond how many states will move their primaries to Feb. 5, and it seems to be starting a war between the states.

“California wants a piece of the presidential primary action, and it is willing to harm the country to get it,” The New Hampshire Union Leader said in a blistering editorial attacking California for encroaching on what had been New Hampshire’s early-primary turf.

New Hampshire officials are threatening to move their primary to before Jan. 22, asserting that the shift by Nevada violated a New Hampshire law requiring that it be first in the country. Iowa officials have responded by saying that if New Hampshire moves its primary, it will move its caucus to eight days before the primary.

That has set off a reaction in Michigan, the state that started pushing for others to go early in the first place. “It’s a terrible thing, it’s a real problem,” said Mark Brewer, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party. “We’re going on the 9th unless some state, such as New Hampshire, breaks the scheduling rules, and then we’re going to move it up.”

Cassi Feldman contributed reporting from New York.

NY Times- Early Primary Rush Upends ’08 Campaign Plans

March 12, 2007

Early Primary Rush Upends ’08 Campaign Plans

WASHINGTON, March 9 — The trickle of states moving their 2008 presidential primaries to Feb. 5 has turned into an avalanche, forcing all the presidential campaigns to reconsider every aspect of their nominating strategy — where to compete, how to spend money, when to start television advertising — as they gird for the prospect of a 20-state national Primary Day.

In the last two weeks, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, dispatched the director of his political action committee to run his primary campaign in California, where a bill to move the primary to Feb. 5 is on the desk of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. John Edwards, the North Carolina Democrat, announced that he had won the endorsement of Richard J. Codey, a former acting governor of New Jersey, testimony to the state’s new status as it readies to shift its primary to Feb. 5 from June.

Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, held a rally the other day in Texas, and aides to Rudolph W. Giuliani, the New York Republican, said staff members would be sent to California, Florida and Missouri, as both candidates prepare for expected Feb. 5 primaries in those states.

“It’s becoming a brush fire out there,” Mr. Obama said in an interview.

Mr. McCain, remarking on the difference from the last time he ran for president, suggested that the front-loaded primary day was not a good development. “I don’t think there’s enough exposure of the candidates the way that there used to be, having to go state by state by state over a long period of time,” he said.

For the most part, the candidates and their aides cannot quite figure out what all this turmoil means for them. The changes, which are shaping up to be the most substantial alteration ever to a campaign calendar in a single election cycle, have heightened the volatility of the most wide-open presidential race in 50 years, one with large and well-financed fields of contenders.

Aides to the candidates said they were debating whether the changes would mean that the nominations would effectively be settled on Feb. 5, by which point easily 50 percent of the delegates are likely to have been chosen, or whether a few strong candidates would divide the Feb. 5 take, forcing the campaign to stretch on for months. That could, oddly enough, make those fewer states sticking to later primaries vital players in the election cycle.

The changes are forcing candidates to decide whether Iowa and New Hampshire, two states with contests before Feb. 5, will become more influential as contenders look for early victories to give them momentum. And with as many as 23 states voting on a single day — more states than are typically considered competitive in a general election — candidates must decide which ones to ignore, given the demands on their time and bank accounts.

“This primary season is turning into the most challenging Rubik’s Cube that we’ve faced in our lifetime,” said Benjamin L. Ginsberg, the counsel to Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts who is seeking the Republican nomination, and one of his party’s leading experts on election law, pointing to the calendar, the fund-raising demands and the absence of a front-runner in either party.

For Democrats, the prospect of a mega-primary has created a new calculation about the importance of black voters, already a constituency being fiercely courted by Mr. Obama, who is seeking to become the nation’s first black president, and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. There are hardly any black voters in Iowa and New Hampshire; by contrast, they could play an important role in California, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey and New York.

The early primary drive is the latest evidence of the national parties’ continuing decline in influence over the nominating process. A Democratic Party effort to force states and candidates to abide by the calendar, with threats of refusing to seat delegates chosen by states that defy its rules, seems doomed to fail, with candidates and states saying they will ignore it.

The developments have stirred despair among some Democratic National Committee officials, who pushed through a new calendar this year that sought to dilute the influence of Iowa and New Hampshire by letting Nevada and South Carolina hold nominating contests before Feb. 5. Nevada’s Democratic caucus will be five days after the Jan. 14 Iowa caucus, and South Carolina’s primary will be at least a week after the Jan. 22 New Hampshire primary.

Donna Brazile, one of the Democratic Party leaders involved in pushing through those changes, said she believed that Iowa and New Hampshire were now more powerful than ever because of the move toward Feb. 5. “I am very alarmed,” Ms. Brazile said. “This is the opposite of what we are trying to do.”

But Tom McMahon, the executive director of the Democratic Party, said in an interview that having Nevada and South Carolina go earlier had allowed the party to achieve its main goal. “We’ve been able to insert diversity where diversity didn’t occur before,” Mr. McMahon said, “and we are able to preserve more small states to allow more candidates to get into this.”

With 11 months before the Iowa caucuses, what is most striking, campaign officials said, is just how much uncertainty there is about this most fundamental part of a campaign: when people are going to vote. The National Association of Secretaries of State reported that 23 states were either considering moving to Feb. 5 or certain to do so. But that number changes daily as bills move between legislative committees and to governors’ desks.

The importance of Iowa and New Hampshire has emerged as one of the critical questions for the campaigns.

Some analysts said the winners in the early states would emerge with so much momentum and favorable news media attention that they would dominate the national primary to follow and lay claim to their party’s nomination, much the way Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts captured the Democratic nomination in 2004 after his victories in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But others said having a 20-state primary a week later would allow candidates who performed weakly in the early states to rebound, particularly if they had the advantage of money or name recognition.

Mr. Giuliani’s aides suggested they might not spend as much time and money in Iowa and New Hampshire as other candidates, given his potential strength on Feb. 5 in places like California and New Jersey, two states with a more moderate electorate than Iowa and South Carolina.

“We have the ability to play the game a little differently,” said Mike DuHaime, who is running Mr. Giuliani’s campaign. “It’s not a matter of saying the early states aren’t important, because they are. It is just a matter of realizing that, unlike past primaries, there are many more states this year that will help decide the nominee.”

Terry Nelson, Mr. McCain’s campaign manager, said Mr. Giuliani’s campaign appeared to have adopted what he called a Feb. 5 strategy, which he said could be a dangerous miscalculation by ignoring the states deciding before then. “It doesn’t diminish the influence and impact of the earlier states,” Mr. Nelson said of the shift to Feb. 5, “because it’s going to be very difficult for any campaign to build the resources you need to compete in all of these states.”

On the Democratic side, aides to Mr. Edwards are hoping for big victories in Iowa and South Carolina to make up for any advantage Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama have because they are so much better known and may prove to be more effective at raising money.

There is near-universal agreement among officials of both parties that the new calendar will give a huge advantage to well-known candidates, in particular Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Giuliani, Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama. Beyond that, California and New Jersey are likely to be more receptive to Mr. Giuliani than are Iowa and South Carolina, with their many conservative voters.

The uncertainty goes beyond how many states will move their primaries to Feb. 5, and it seems to be starting a war between the states.

“California wants a piece of the presidential primary action, and it is willing to harm the country to get it,” The New Hampshire Union Leader said in a blistering editorial attacking California for encroaching on what had been New Hampshire’s early-primary turf.

New Hampshire officials are threatening to move their primary to before Jan. 22, asserting that the shift by Nevada violated a New Hampshire law requiring that it be first in the country. Iowa officials have responded by saying that if New Hampshire moves its primary, it will move its caucus to eight days before the primary.

That has set off a reaction in Michigan, the state that started pushing for others to go early in the first place. “It’s a terrible thing, it’s a real problem,” said Mark Brewer, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party. “We’re going on the 9th unless some state, such as New Hampshire, breaks the scheduling rules, and then we’re going to move it up.”

Cassi Feldman contributed reporting from New York.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

N.Y. Times- A Libby Verdict

March 7, 2007
Editorial

A Libby Verdict

There will be a great deal written and said in coming days about the frustrations of the Scooter Libby verdict — that it did not tell us whether someone deliberately blew Valerie Plame Wilson’s cover or erase serious concerns about the prosecutor’s abuse of the First Amendment. Let’s focus first on what the verdict does say.

One of the most senior officials in the White House, Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, was caught lying to the F.B.I. He appears to have been trying to cover up a smear campaign that was orchestrated by his boss against the first person to unmask one of the many untruths that President Bush used to justify invading Iraq. He was charged with those crimes, defended by the best lawyers he could get, tried in an open courtroom and convicted of serious felonies. Mr. Libby walked freely out of the court, had his say in public and will be allowed to appeal.

It was another reminder of how precious the American judicial system is, at a time when it is under serious attack from the same administration Mr. Libby served. That administration is systematically denying the right of counsel, the right to evidence and even the right to be tried to scores of prisoners who may have committed no crimes at all.

And although we still do not know the answer to the original mystery, the case provided a look at the methodical way that Mr. Cheney, Mr. Libby, Karl Rove and others in the Bush inner circle set out to discredit Ms. Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson IV. Mr. Wilson, a career diplomat, was sent by the State Department in 2002 to check out a British intelligence report that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from the government of Niger for a secret nuclear weapons program. In his 2003 State of the Union address, Mr. Bush said: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

In July 2003, Mr. Wilson wrote in an Op-Ed article in The Times that what he had found did not support that claim. The specter of a nuclear-armed Iraq was central to Mr. Bush’s case for rushing to war. So, the trial testimony showed, Mr. Cheney orchestrated an assault on Mr. Wilson’s credibility with the help of Mr. Libby and others. They whispered to journalists that Mr. Wilson’s wife worked at the C.I.A. and that nepotism was the reason he had been chosen for the trip.

That is what we know from the Libby trial, and it is some of the clearest evidence yet that this administration did not get duped by faulty intelligence; at the very least, it cherry-picked and hyped intelligence to justify the war. What Mr. Wilson found, and subsequent investigations confirmed, was that there was one trip in 1999 — not “recently,” but four years before Mr. Bush’s statement — by an Iraqi official to Niger and that during that trip, uranium was never discussed.

What we still do not know is whether a government official used Ms. Wilson’s name despite knowing that she worked undercover. That is a serious offense, which could have put her and all those who had worked with her in danger. We also do not understand why the federal prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, chose to wage war with the news media in assembling his case, going so far as to jail a Times reporter, Judith Miller, for refusing to reveal the name of a confidential source.

The potential damage from that decision remains of real concern. But it was still a breath of fresh air to see someone in this administration, which specializes in secrecy, prevarication and evading blame, finally called to account.

N.Y. Times - An Unjust Expulsion

March 8, 2007
Editorial

An Unjust Expulsion

The Cherokee Nation’s decision to revoke the tribal citizenship of about 2,800 descendants of slaves once owned by the tribe is a moral low point in modern Cherokee history and places the tribe in violation of a 140-year-old federal treaty and several court decisions. The federal government must now step in to protect the rights of the freedmen, who could lose their tribal identities as well as access to medical, housing and other tribal benefits.

This bitter dispute dates to the treaties of 1866, when the Cherokee, Seminole and Creek agreed to admit their former slaves as tribal members in return for recognition as sovereign nations. The tribes fought black membership from the start — even though many of the former slaves were products of mixed black and Indian marriages.

The federal courts repeatedly upheld the treaties. But the federal government fanned the flames when a government commission set out in the 1890s to create an authoritative roll of tribal membership. Instead of placing everyone on a single roll, it made two lists. The so-called blood list contained nonblack Cherokees, listed with their percentage of Indian ancestry. The freedmen’s list included the names of any black members, even those with significant Cherokee ancestry.

The issue exploded in the 1980s when tribal authorities excluded the freedmen from voting on the grounds that they weren’t Cherokee by blood. The Cherokee version of the Supreme Court ruled last year that the law was unconstitutional. The expulsion vote was a response to that ruling and to a pending federal lawsuit by the freedmen, which charges both the tribe and the federal government with violating the treaty and the Constitution.

Advocates for the expulsion say it is about self-determination. But the tribal history makes clear that it is about discrimination — and that it is illegal. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, which has been curiously silent, should bring the Cherokee government into compliance with the law and require it to restore the tribal rights of the expelled members.

N.Y. Times - Denying Rights in Nigeria

March 8, 2007
Editorial

Denying Rights in Nigeria

A poisonous piece of legislation is quickly making its way through the Nigerian National Assembly. Billed as an anti-gay-marriage act, it is a far-reaching assault on basic rights of association, assembly and expression. Chillingly, the legislation — proposed last year by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo — has the full and enthusiastic support of the leader of Nigeria’s powerful Anglican church. Unless the international community speaks out quickly and forcefully against the bill, it is almost certain to become law.

Homosexual acts between consenting adults are already illegal in Nigeria under a penal code that dates to the colonial period. This new legislation would impose five-year sentences on same-sex couples who have wedding ceremonies — as well as on those who perform such services and on all who attend. The bill’s vague and dangerous prohibition on any public or private show of a “same sex amorous relationship” — which could be construed to cover having dinner with someone of the same sex — would open any known or suspected gay man or lesbian to the threat of arrest at almost any time.

The bill also criminalizes all political organizing on behalf of gay rights. And in a country with a dauntingly high rate of H.I.V. and AIDS, the ban on holding any meetings related to gay rights could make it impossible for medical workers to counsel homosexuals on safe sex practices.

Efforts to pass the bill last year stalled in part because of strong condemnation from the United States and the European Union. Now its backers are again trying to rush it through, and Washington and Brussels need to speak out against it. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and one of the most politically influential. If it passes a law that says human rights are not for every citizen, it will set a treacherous example for the region and the world.

N.Y. Times - The Gonzales Eight

March 8, 2007
Editorial

The Gonzales Eight

Americans often suspect that their political leaders are arrogant and out of touch. But even then it is nearly impossible to fathom what self-delusion could have convinced Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico that he had a right to call a federal prosecutor at home and question him about a politically sensitive investigation.

That disturbing tale is one of several revealed this week in Congressional hearings called to look into the firing of eight United States attorneys. The hearings left little doubt that the Bush administration had all eight — an unprecedented number — ousted for political reasons. But it points to even wider abuse; prosecutors suggest that three Republican members of Congress may have tried to pressure the attorneys into doing their political bidding.

It already seemed clear that the Bush administration’s purge had trampled on prosecutorial independence. Now Congress and the Justice Department need to investigate possible ethics violations, and perhaps illegality. Two of the fired prosecutors testified that they had been dismissed after resisting what they suspected were importunings to use their offices to help Republicans win elections. A third described what may have been a threat of retaliation if he talked publicly about his firing.

David Iglesias, who was removed as the United States attorney in Albuquerque, said that he was first contacted before last fall’s election by Representative Heather Wilson, Republican of New Mexico. Ms. Wilson, who was in a tough re-election fight, asked about sealed indictments — criminal charges that are not public.

Two weeks later, he said, he got a call from Senator Pete Domenici, Republican of New Mexico, asking whether he intended to indict Democrats before the election in a high-profile corruption case. When Mr. Iglesias said no, he said, Mr. Domenici replied that he was very sorry to hear it, and the line went dead. Mr. Iglesias said he’d felt “sick.” Within six weeks, he was fired. Ms. Wilson and Mr. Domenici both deny that they had tried to exert pressure.

John McKay of Seattle testified that the chief of staff for Representative Doc Hastings, Republican of Washington, called to ask whether he intended to investigate the 2004 governor’s race, which a Democrat won after two recounts. Mr. McKay says that when he went to the White House later to discuss a possible judicial nomination (which he did not get), he was told of concerns about how he’d handled the election. H. E. Cummins, a fired prosecutor from Arkansas, said that a Justice Department official, in what appeared to be a warning, said that if he kept talking about his firing, the department would release negative information about him.

Congress must keep demanding answers. It must find out who decided to fire these prosecutors and why, and who may have authorized putting pressure on Mr. Cummins. And it must look into whether Senator Domenici and Representatives Wilson and Hastings violated ethics rules that forbid this sort of interference. We hope the House committee will not be deterred by the fact that Mr. Hastings is its ranking Republican. The Justice Department also needs to open its own investigation. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s claim that these prosecutors were fired for poor performance was always difficult to believe. Now it’s impossible.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Obama: Man of the World

March 6, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
Obama: Man of the World
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

WASHINGTON

The conventional wisdom about Barack Obama is that he’s smart and charismatic but so inexperienced that we should feel jittery about him in the Oval Office.

But that view is myopic. In some respects, Mr. Obama is far more experienced than other presidential candidates.

His experience as an antipoverty organizer in Chicago, for example, gives him a deep grasp of a crucial 21st-century challenge — poverty in America — that almost all politicians lack. He says that grass-roots experience helps explain why he favors not only government spending programs, like early childhood education, but also cultural initiatives, like efforts to promote responsible fatherhood.

In foreign policy as well, Mr. Obama would bring to the White House an important experience that most other candidates lack: he has actually lived abroad. He spent four years as a child in Indonesia and attended schools in the Indonesian language, which he still speaks.

“I was a little Jakarta street kid,” he said in a wide-ranging interview in his office (excerpts are on my blog, www.nytimes.com/ontheground). He once got in trouble for making faces during Koran study classes in his elementary school, but a president is less likely to stereotype Muslims as fanatics — and more likely to be aware of their nationalism — if he once studied the Koran with them.

Mr. Obama recalled the opening lines of the Arabic call to prayer, reciting them with a first-rate accent. In a remark that seemed delightfully uncalculated (it’ll give Alabama voters heart attacks), Mr. Obama described the call to prayer as “one of the prettiest sounds on Earth at sunset.”

Moreover, Mr. Obama’s own grandfather in Kenya was a Muslim. Mr. Obama never met his grandfather and says he isn’t sure if his grandfather’s two wives were simultaneous or consecutive, or even if he was Sunni or Shiite. (O.K., maybe Mr. Obama should just give up on Alabama.)

Our biggest mistake since World War II has been a lack of sensitivity to other people’s nationalism, from Vietnam to Iraq. Perhaps as a result of his background, Mr. Obama has been unusually sensitive to such issues and to the need to project respect rather than arrogance. He has consistently shown great instincts.

Mr. Obama’s visit to Africa last year hit just the right diplomatic notes. In Kenya, he warmly greeted the president — but denounced corruption and went out of his way to visit a bold newspaper that government agents had ransacked. In South Africa, he respectfully but firmly criticized the government’s unscientific bungling of the AIDS epidemic. In Chad, he visited Darfur refugees.

“My experience growing up in Indonesia or having family in small villages in Africa — I think it makes me much more mindful of the importance of issues like personal security or freedom from corruption,” he said, adding: “I’ve witnessed it in much more direct ways than I think the average American has witnessed it.”

As a senator, Mr. Obama has not only seized the issue of nuclear proliferation, but also the question of small arms. For a majority of the world’s inhabitants, those AK-47s and R.P.G.’s are the weapons of mass destruction.

So how would an Obama administration differ from the Bill Clinton presidency in foreign policy? One way, he said, would be a much greater emphasis on promoting education, health care and development in Africa and other poor regions — not just for humanitarian reasons, but also with an eye to national security.

“If we can’t take what, relative to our military hardware and defense budgets, are a pittance, and put some resources into these areas, we will not be secure,” he noted, adding: “The Marshall Plan was part of a security strategy; it wasn’t simply charity.”

Mr. Obama thumps the White House on trade and foreign investments, like the Dubai ports deal — but he isn’t demagogic in the way that too many Democrats have been. And three years ago, Mr. Obama was quoted in The Chicago Tribune as making hawkish comments about a military strike on Iran, but in the interview he pirouetted and noted that one of the lessons of Iraq is that “being trigger-happy ... is a recipe for disaster.” That’s a welcome sign of growth.

So, granted, Mr. Obama lacks the extensive experience at top levels of diplomacy of, say, Dick Cheney or ... oh, never mind.

What sets Mr. Obama apart is the way his training has been at the grass-roots rather than in the treetops. And that may be the richest kind of background of all, yielding not just experience, but also wisdom.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Kristof has hit on Obama's greatest strength. He is someone who is world wise from the ground up. He has experienced the world from the perspective of everyday people, not the protected, insular, protected environments that are the only way that most politicians and the wealthy see the world. He has a realistic view of the world and is not likely to make the same ignorant miscalculations that were made by the Bush Cheney administration.

John H. Armwood

No Comfort

Editorial The N.Y. Times

No Comfort


What part of “Japanese Army sex slaves” does Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, have so much trouble understanding and apologizing for?

The underlying facts have long been beyond serious dispute. During World War II, Japan’s Army set up sites where women rounded up from Japanese colonies like Korea were expected to deliver sexual services to Japan’s soldiers.

These were not commercial brothels. Force, explicit and implicit, was used in recruiting these women. What went on in them was serial rape, not prostitution. The Japanese Army’s involvement is documented in the government’s own defense files. A senior Tokyo official more or less apologized for this horrific crime in 1993. The unofficial fund set up to compensate victims is set to close down this month.

And Mr. Abe wants the issue to end there. Last week, he claimed that there was no evidence that the victims had been coerced. Yesterday, he grudgingly acknowledged the 1993 quasi apology, but only as part of a pre-emptive declaration that his government would reject the call, now pending in the United States Congress, for an official apology. America isn’t the only country interested in seeing Japan belatedly accept full responsibility. Korea and China are also infuriated by years of Japanese equivocations over the issue.

Mr. Abe seems less concerned with repairing Japan’s sullied international reputation than with appealing to a large right-wing faction within his Liberal Democratic Party that insists that the whole shameful episode was a case of healthy private enterprise. One ruling party lawmaker, in his misplaced zeal to exculpate the Army, even suggested the offensive analogy of a college that outsourced its cafeteria to a private firm.

Japan is only dishonored by such efforts to contort the truth.

The 1993 statement needs to be expanded upon, not whittled down. Parliament should issue a frank apology and provide generous official compensation to the surviving victims. It is time for Japan’s politicians — starting with Mr. Abe — to recognize that the first step toward overcoming a shameful past is acknowledging it.