Decreased Violence in Iraq and the Surge

I don’t think that anyone disputes the fact that violence in Iraq has diminished since the beginning of the surge. What is disputed by many is the belief that the surge was a wise policy. Many opponents of the surge, including myself, had predicted that the violence would drop during the surge but were skeptical as to whether this would contribute to a lasting political solution. We also questioned whether the surge would be worth the cost, which included further depletion of the resources of our armed forces, allowing conditions in Afghanistan to deteriorate further.

Some of the decrease in violence has been a consequence of political changes which actually began before the surge started. There has been more evidence this month showing that those of us who opposed the surge were right. Bob Woodward’s new book showed several reasons for a drop in violence independent of the surge. One particularly tragic explanation came to light in a report from Reuters released today:

Satellite images taken at night show heavily Sunni Arab neighborhoods of Baghdad began emptying before a U.S. troop surge in 2007, graphic evidence of ethnic cleansing that preceded a drop in violence, according to a report published on Friday.

The images support the view of international refugee organizations and Iraq experts that a major population shift was a key factor in the decline in sectarian violence, particularly in the Iraqi capital, the epicenter of the bloodletting in which hundreds of thousands were killed.

Minority Sunni Arabs were driven out of many neighborhoods by Shi’ite militants enraged by the bombing of the Samarra mosque in February 2006. The bombing, blamed on the Sunni militant group al Qaeda, sparked a wave of sectarian violence.

“By the launch of the surge, many of the targets of conflict had either been killed or fled the country, and they turned off the lights when they left,” geography professor John Agnew of the University of California Los Angeles, who led the study, said in a statement.

“Essentially, our interpretation is that violence has declined in Baghdad because of intercommunal violence that reached a climax as the surge was beginning,” said Agnew, who studies ethnic conflict.

Update: Looking further at this study I am not certain how much it proves this point, but there is independent evidence that ethnic cleansing was a major factor in the decrease in violence. CNN correspondent Michael Ware has been reporting on this for well over a year.

Psychologists Vote To Ban Participation In Torture

AP reports that the American Psychological Association has joined other professional organizations in supporting a ban on taking part in interrogations where international law is being violated:

The nation’s leading psychologists’ association has voted to ban its members from taking part in interrogations at the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and other military detention sites where it believes international law is being violated.

The ban means those who are American Psychological Association members can’t assist the U.S. military at these sites. They can only work there for humanitarian purposes or with non-governmental groups, according to Stephen Soldz, a Boston psychologist. Soldz is founder of an ethics coalition that has long supported the ban…

The interrogation ban brings the psychologists more in line with the American Medical Association and American Psychiatric Association. In 2005, the psychologists association adopted a position that said, for national security purposes, it was ethical to act as consultants for interrogation and information-gathering.

Psychologists have been involved in decisions that approve of coercion methods, including “taking away comfort items like clothes and toilet paper from detainees” to help extract information from them, Soldz said.

Most People Would Love A Pay Cut Like Sarah Palin’s

Sarah Palin has many claims about her record which have turned out to be untrue. Greg Sargent has reviewed the records from Wasilla and found that her pay actually went up over the years:

Upon taking office on 10/14/1996: $64.200
01/01/1997: Pay was cut from $64,200 to $61,200
06/01/1998: Pay rose from $61,200 to $68,000
07/01/1999: Pay cut again from $68,000 to $66,000
10/01/1999: Pay rose from $66,000 to $68,000

Sarah Palin Does Not Know What Branch Of Government She Is Running For

Here’s yet another example of why electing McCain/Palin would be very much like four more years of Bush/Cheney. The Hill reports that Palin is as confused as Cheney with regards to which branch of government the vice president is in:

Vice President Dick Cheney has said his office only partially belongs to the executive branch. Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden disagrees and Republican rival Sarah Palin isn’t saying.

Sen. Biden (Del.) believes the office he is seeking is solely in  the executive branch, according to his staff. But aides to Alaska Gov. Palin did not answer the question.

“Unlike Dick Cheney, Joe Biden won’t have to create a full employment plan for lawyers and scholars to clear up something that was unquestioned for about 200 years. The vice president is part of the executive branch, period. End of story,” said Biden spokesman David Wade.

In turn, a spokesman for the Republican presidential campaign did not answer the question. Instead, he e-mailed remarks Palin gave at a campaign rally in Golden, Colo., on Monday.

Palin did not say what branch of government she believes the vice president’s office is part of in those remarks. Instead, Palin said she and Republican presidential nominee John McCain had discussed what responsibilities she would take on as his second-in-command.

Sarah Palin might not know much, but she sure does know how to avoid giving the answer to the actual question being asked. You might have also noticed this in the limited interviews she has agreed to. Ask her about banning books and she will tell you that no books were actually banned, but avoids the fact that she had attempted to ban the books. Ask her about creationism and she will talk about her father being a science teacher, but she will not comment on her own beliefs or her past efforts to push for the teaching of creationism in science classes.  Hiding her own far right views while running is reminiscent of how George Bush first ran for president in 2000 calling himself a “compassionate conservative.”

Obama Repeats Call For Middle Class Tax Cuts

First Read Reports that Obama raised the importance of middle class tax cuts in the face of the financial crisis on Wall Street:

“There is a relationship between economic stimulus that I think needs to take place right now and long term-tax cuts for the middle class,” he said. “The more that we’ve got broad-based prosperity and families have higher wages and incomes — the better off the economy’s gonna be as a whole, and that’s especially true at a time when we’ve got recessionary tendencies. So I think now more than ever, we’ve gotta have the kind of broad-based middle class tax cut that I talked about for 95% of working families.”

Flanked by seven of his economic advisers, the senator read a statement in support of efforts by the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department and Congress to find a bipartisan solution to the financial crisis, that largely echoed the one his campaign put out early this morning.

Throughout the campaign, John McCain has tried to utilize scare tactics by making false claims of tax increases under Obama.

Polling Preferences From Watching Football To Teaching Children

There’s been a flood of new polls recently, varying in significance. There’s a new version of the perennial question of which candidate one would prefer to have a beer with. An Associated Press-Yahoo News poll asked voters who they would prefer to watch a football game with. Obama won 50% to 47%. Some feared watching with McCain saying, “I bet he’d probably get pretty angry and lit up if his team was losing.”

Obama did even better in a question of  who they would choose to be their child’s teacher, winning 55% to 44%. This result was not a surprise considering that, regardless of whether one agrees with Obama, people observing the two candidates should at least agree that Obama is by far the more intellectual of the two. (This is the very reason why some Republicans are voting against him.) It also helps for this poll that Obama has had years of experience teaching Constitutional law.

Beyond the polls, McCain is having difficulty getting people to hang around to listen to him at a rally. Radio Iowa gives this description:

I look up, about five minutes into McCain’s address and see a steady stream of people walking out of the rally.  They just came to see Palin apparently.

I’m sure most readers are aware of the results of the real polls as they have been showing Obama surging. Gallup has shown Obama going from trailing after the conventions to taking a statistically significant five point lead. State polls have generally been closer but, especially considering that they are not obtained as rapidly as national polls and therefore lag behind, they are also looking favorable for Obama. Among states which have shifted in recent elections,  Obama is leading in Iowa, New Hampshire, and New Mexico. He has a strong lead in several polls in one red state, Colorado. The polls are closer in several other states, with some polls showing a lead for Obama in red states such as  Ohio, Indiana, Florida, and Virginia. With leads in Ohio and Indiana in some polls Obama has a chance to sweep the entire Big Ten region, assuming he also holds onto current leads in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

McCain has clearly lost his post-convention bounce. This is partialy due to a tremendous drop in Sarah Palin’s popularity, with two different polls showing a tremendous drop in her approval. She is still helping to energize the far right base, but there are far fewer hard core Republicans than there were during the Bush years. McCain gambled both his poltical career and the future of the country on Sarah Palin. Now that he has lost that bet it might be difficult for him to come up with anything else to catch up with Obama.

Fact Checkers Understand Spanish

Do the candidates think they can get away with more in a foreign language? looks at a pair of Spanish language ads and finds that the ads from both Obama and McCain are misleading.

Lying has become a major part of McCain’s strategy and I imagine it doesn’t hurt him any further to have one more dishonest ad exposed. Obama has for the most part run a remarkably clean campaign and he should avoid running such ads. Any gains he might make from a misleading ad could be lost from losing his strong advantage over McCain in honesty and character.

Somebody Please Ask Sarah Palin About Dinosaurs

Last Saturday, Amy Poeler, portraying Hillary Clinton on Saturday Night Live, challenged the press to “grow a pair” and to question Sarah Palin about her views. She advised the press: “Please ask this one about dinosaurs.” Unfortunately Palin has been avoiding the media and attempting to hide her views. Lacking honest answers from Palin, reporters are forced to resort to information such as reports from those who have followed her in Alaska.  David Talbot has interviewed people who have followed Palin and it appears Amy Poeler got it right as it does appear that Palin is a young earth creationist.

Talbot interviewed Howard Bess, a retired American Baptist minister from nearby Palmer, Alaska. Bess’ book, Pastor, I Am Gay, was one of the books which Palin had attempted to have removed from the Wasilla library. After discussing this incident, along with her anti-abortion rights activities, Talbot wrote about discussing Palin’s views on creationism with another local activist:

Another valley activist, Philip Munger, says that Palin also helped push the evangelical drive to take over the Mat-Su Borough school board. “She wanted to get people who believed in creationism on the board,” said Munger, a music composer and teacher. “I bumped into her once after my band played at a graduation ceremony at the Assembly of God. I said, ‘Sarah, how can you believe in creationism — your father’s a science teacher.’ And she said, ‘We don’t have to agree on everything.’

“I pushed her on the earth’s creation, whether it was really less than 7,000 years old and whether dinosaurs and humans walked the earth at the same time. And she said yes, she’d seen images somewhere of dinosaur fossils with human footprints in them.”

Munger also asked Palin if she truly believed in the End of Days, the doomsday scenario when the Messiah will return. “She looked in my eyes and said, ‘Yes, I think I will see Jesus come back to earth in my lifetime.'”

It is quite scary that someone who rejects the fundamentals of basic science, and who shows such a shocking inability to engage in rational thought, could wind up being a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Republicans Debunk McCain’s Charges Against Obama on Iraq

In his recent book, historian Robert Dallek described how Nixon and Kissinger intervened in Vietnam before the 1968 election for political gain. There have also been reports alleging that Ronald Reagan intervened with Iran to keep the hostages from released until after he replaced Jimmy Carter. John McCain, perhaps influenced by these allegations against Republican presidents, has made comparable allegations against Barack Obama following his trip to Iraq. Jake Tapper reports than even Republicans are contradicting his unfounded charges:

The charge — that Obama asked the Iraqis to delay signing off on a “Status of Forces Agreement,” thus delaying US troop withdrawal and interfering in U.S. foreign policy — has been picked up on the internet, talk radio and by Republicans including the McCain campaign, which seized on the story as possible evidence of duplicity.

The Obama campaign said that the Post report consisted of “outright distortions.”

Lending significant credence to Obama’s response is the fact that — though it’s absent from the Post story and other retellings — in addition to Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, this July meeting was also attended by Bush administration officials such as U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and the Baghdad embassy’s Legislative Affairs advisor Rich Haughton, as well as a Republican senator, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

Attendees of the meeting back Obama’s account, including not just Sen. Jack Reed, D-RI, but Hagel, Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffers from both parties. Officials of the Bush administration who were briefed on the meeting by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad also support Obama’s account and dispute the Post story and McCain attack.

The Post story is “absolutely not true,” Hagel spokesman Mike Buttry told ABC News.

“Barack Obama has never urged a delay in negotiations,” said Obama campaign national security spokesperson Wendy Morigi, “nor has he urged a delay in immediately beginning a responsible drawdown of our combat brigades.”

After further discussion of how McCain has been distorting the situation, Tapper concludes:

What actually demands an explanation is why the McCain campaign was so willing to give credence to such a questionable story with such tremendous international implications without first talking to Republicans present at Obama’s meeting with Maliki, who back Obama’s version of the meeting and completely dismiss the Post column as untrue.

Dishonest McCain Ad Also Plays Race Card

Another McCain ad has been shown to be dishonest, with some even describing it as playing the race card. The Fact Checker at The Washington Post provides a summary and considers McCain’s attempts to tie Franklin Raines, former CEO of Fannie Mae, to Barack Obama to be dishonest. In giving McCain Two Pinocchios for the statements in his ad they conclude:

The McCain campaign is clearly exaggerating wildly in attempting to depict Franklin Raines as a close adviser to Obama on “housing and mortgage policy.” If we are to believe Raines, he did have a couple of telephone conversations with someone in the Obama campaign. But that hardly makes him an adviser to the candidate himself–and certainly not in the way depicted in the McCain video release.

Karen Tumulty says McCain is playing the race card with this ad:

When politicians interject race into a campaign, they seldom do it directly. Consider McCain’s new ad, which the campaign says it will be airing nationally:

This is hardly subtle: Sinister images of two black men, followed by one of a vulnerable-looking elderly white woman.

Let me stipulate: Obama’s Fannie Mae connections are completely fair game. But this ad doesn’t even mention a far more significant tie–that of Jim Johnson, the former Fannie Mae chairman who had to resign as head of Obama’s vice presidential search team after it was revealed he got a sweetheart deal on a mortgage from Countrywide Financial. Instead, it relies on a fleeting and tenuous reference in a Washington Post Style section story to suggest that Obama’s principal economic adviser is former Fannie Mae Chairman Frank Raines. Why? One reason might be that Johnson is white; Raines is black.

And the image of the victim doesn’t seem accidental either, given the fact that older white women are a key swing constituency in this election.

Marc Ambinder sees this as playing the race card from a different angle:

If one is to impart an ulterior motive to the ads creators, it might well be that they’re hoping that the Obama campaign (or the media) condends the ads as racist and therefore magnifies their effect.  Call it — “Playing The Race Card” card.

This is all probably a sign of despiration as McCain falls further in the polls. In August, when similarly behind, he showed his despiration in the choice of Sarah Palin as running mate. Now that this is beginning to backfire, he must look for other ways to try to get back in the race. Things might really get ugly when we have someone like John McCain running who is willing to say or do anything to attempt to get elected.

Update: The McCain campaign subsequently released an ad involving Johnson the following day, which does nothing to either reduce the dishonesty of McCain’s ads or eliminate the question of playing the race card in the first ad.