After a recount that has gone on since the November election, a Minnesota court today ruled that Democrat Al Franken received more votes than Republican incumbent Norm Coleman in the state’s U.S. Senate race. Coleman has said that he plans to appeal the ruling to the state’s Supreme Court, which “could mean weeks more delay in seating Minnesota’s second senator. After a statewide recount and seven-week trial, Franken stands 312 votes ahead. Franken actually gained more votes from the election challenge than Coleman, the candidate who brought it.” Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) has said that although having just one senator is hurting the state’s residents, he supports Coleman’s appeals.
Just go read Gavin. When you're done, come back and read about Americans for Prosperity (listed on the Houston Tea party site as "local sponsor") and its President, Tim Phillips:Before replacing Koch Industries lobbyist Nancy Pfotenhauer as president of[...]
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Israel's preeminent Syria expert, Moshe Ma'oz, famously dubbed that country's former leader Hafaz al-Assad "the Sphinx of Damascus" in his political biography of that title, an inscrutable man, impossible to decipher. Almost ten years into office, his son and successor Bashar al-Assad has yet to have collected too many nick-names but his ambassador to Washington, Imad Moustapha, was anything but sphinx-like in openly embracing the peace process and setting forth a challenge to both the new Israeli and America governments on Fareed Zakaria's GPS show yesterday. Zakaria's hour of thoughtful policy discourse on CNN has become for me one of the few things worth watching on a Sunday.
Ambassador Moustapha surprised many yesterday and made headlines in Israel when he countered Fareed Zakaria's skepticism that progress on peace would be possible given the new Likud-Lieberman government in Jerusalem by suggesting that, "It's better to deal with someone like Lieberman than someone like Livni - Lieberman is candid and says what he believes," which he contrasted to Livni and colleagues talking peace while making war, notably in Gaza. This is an interesting position to take not least from a senior Syrian representative and contrasts to what many others in the Arab world have been arguing - it also seems to me more realistic and constructive especially given the lead peacemaking role that Moustapha penciled in for the Obama administration. Perhaps even subconsciously, Syria seems to be sending the message - you want to make peace, deal with the bad guys, whichever side they are on (and that might as much be a self-reflective comment as it is a critique of Israel's new leadership).
Ambassador Moustapha did not have an easy time in Washington for the last years of the Bush administration. He would sometimes joke that he was the closest thing DC had to an ambassador of the Axis of Evil and was treated as such. But he stuck around and reached out to whoever was willing to listen, notably to some of the key players in Congress on both the Democrat and Republican sides, a number of whom visited Damascus in recent years. Judging by his performance yesterday, Moustapha seems to be suggesting that now is the time to shift Syrian public diplomacy toward the US up by several gears. In responding to Zakaria's question about the Obama election victory and how it was received in Syria, the ambassador stressed that, "America has vindicated herself... after eight terrible years," describing how the ordinary Syrian was, "overjoyed."
The ambassador's headline-generating readiness, even eagerness, to negotiate peace with a Likud-Lieberman government and his preference for them as a negotiating partner over Livni and co. is something that one can understand and even partially agree with. Again, the implicit message at least is almost to be saying - 'everyone always criticizes our regime, while the Israeli side are no teddy bears now either, so let's just get over it, take a hard look at everyone's key interests, including America's, and get on with the serious business of getting a deal.
Indeed, Avigdor Lieberman and what he represents is not really Syria's problem or even America's - he is primarily Israel's problem (although given that the America-Israel relationship is to some degree based on shared values, a Lieberman reality in Israel is not a simple or comfortable thing). There is of course also the argument that Netanyahu is in a stronger position to deliver on a deal than the center-left would be and as PM in the late-90's, sent his personal envoy (former US ambassador Ronald Lauder) to convey messages to the Syrians of Bibi's willingness to withdraw from the Golan. Imad Moustapha told Zakaria that Syria would be ready for a similar peace deal that Israel has with Egypt and Jordan (i.e. land for security and cold peace) but would prefer for a comprehensive peace to prevail, in other words, for the Palestinian track to also be addressed thereby creating new dynamics and opportunities for relations in the region.
This contrasts with the positions that have begun to be articulated by some of the PA leadership in Ramallah and other US allies including Egypt. In public statements and op-eds, some of the Fatah-PA seems to be delighting in appearing to be the reasonable party set along-side the recalcitrant new bosses in Israel. They are suggesting that Israel meet preconditions (acknowledge two states and past agreements, freeze settlements) before negotiations can resume, and they are egging on a fight between Washington and Jerusalem.
While all that may sound fun, have a self-righteousness to it, and play well on CNN, I fail to see how it actually helps accomplish anything or how it advances an end of occupation and peace and security for both peoples. The last Israeli government continued building settlements, including in East Jerusalem, and maintained checkpoints and closures but that did not stop the Palestinians from negotiating. And even if Netanyahu, or even Lieberman for that matter, were to say those magic words - "two states" - as their predecessors have done, then would it actually bring such a reality any closer?
We seem then to be in a situation where both the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships' strategies lead to a dead-end. The PA-Ramallah leadership appears eager to score points, avoid internal reconciliation, and to get back to the meaningless roadmap and Annapolis process - a path to nowhere if ever there was one. The Likud-Lieberman government thinks that economic projects can deliver a happy occupied people and be a substitute for getting to grips with the basic political realities of territory and occupation - as if this approach has not been tried and stunningly failed for the last fifteen years.
The Syrian Ambassador, and here I agree with him, seems to be suggesting something very different - no preconditions, don't be squeamish about who you talk to, a comprehensive regional peace, and most of all, get the Americans to lead and drive the process (as he put it, "a vigorous, creative role in brokering peace between Arabs and Israelis... Israel will be very careful not to say no to the American president").
This won't be easy but it seems like the right way to go given the current constellation of actors and our historical experience of the failed previous efforts that were over-reliant on bilateral negotiations. Rather than expend political capital on an argument with Netanyahu over the words "two states" or over a settlement developments in far flung corners of the West Bank, the Obama capital would be better invested in driving home a plan for peace. The US should also allow for constructive progress in the US-Syria bilateral relation even if the Israel-Syria track is in question, and that might already be happening given the visit of senior officials Jeffrey Feltman and Dan Shapiro to Damascus (even the US-Syria track will not be simple, not least given the Hariri tribunal as Jay Solomon points out but Syrian cooperation is important for American efforts in the region and there is always the Libya compromise precedent).
Two camps seem to be emerging. One is spoiling for a public spat between the new Israeli government and the Obama administration. The other is urging the Obama administration to act early and decisively to deliver a new land-for-peace deal and equilibrium in the Israeli-Arab arena that will be essential for broader regional stability. The former might tickle some people's fancy but it's the latter that is needed.
Update: Phil Spector has been convicted of second degree murder . The Judge refused bail pending sentencing. He faces at least 15 years in prison. More here -- and on the rise and fall of Phil Spector here. You can watch the jury verdict here.
As the Guardian puts it, at 68, Spector is likely to die in prison.
Our prior coverage of the trial is here. [More...]
The Phil Spector jury has reached a verdict. It will be announced this afternoon.
Residents of the Anbar Province city of Falluja report that six policemen working in a prison in Falluja were handed over by Iraqi authorities to tribal leaders after raping the wife of an inmate who had come to visit him in the facility.
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Juan Cole in Salon, introducing a column on repug hysteria:
The weeping and trembling of Sean Hannity, Karl Rove, Rush Limbaugh and William Kristol underlined once again that the rightwingers are playground crybabies who kick and scream and faint whenever they do not get their way.
Former Rep. Pat Toomey stepped down as president of the Club for Growth today:
It’s time for me to say goodbye to you and all the other wonderful members of the Club for Growth. I’m leaving as president of the Club for Growth today, and will soon take on a new challenge.
It was an eventful tenure for Toomey, during which Republicans lost solidly Red districts to Democrats after backing rabid, unelectable conservatives like Bill Sali in Idaho (Idaho!), Andrew Harris in Maryland's conservative 1st CD, and Tim Walberg in Michigan's 7th. Mission accomplished! So now, Toomey's "new challenge" is to take his particular brand of crazy back to the people of Pennsylvania, where closed primaries ensure the GOP's shrinking and increasingly radicalized base gets to make the call between the weaselly incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter, and the true-blood conservative Toomey. It's not even going to be close.
Remember, the latest Quinnipiac University poll of the race had Toomey defeating Specter 41-27. His chances in the primary range from zero to nil.
Pennsylvania’s primaries are closed, so the 239,000 defectors [switching from Republican to Democrat in 2008] suddenly loom large —Specter survived his 2004 primary by just 17,000 votes. No longer Republicans, those likely Specter voters are shut out of the primary.
Specter's response? He's making general election arguments to that radicalized primary electorate:
During an appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program, Specter (R-Pa.) provided a preview of his strategy against Toomey. Specter said Toomey fought for deregulation, embraced private accounts in Social Security and, if nominated, would lose the general election and allow Democrats to pass so-called card-check legislation favored by organized labor.
Specter said Toomey is "to the right" of former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), adding, "Santorum lost by 18 points [in 2006], spent $31 million and was a two-term incumbent."
The jab at Santorum comes in the wake of Santorum's silence on whether he will endorse Specter's bid for a sixth term. Santorum backed Specter in his tight 2004 primary win over Toomey. President Bush also backed Specter over Toomey.
"If Toomey is the nominee, you can be sure he'll lose," Specter said, claiming Democrats would then have the votes to pass card-check and allow the White House and congressional Democrats to steamroll their agenda through Congress.
The problem for Specter is that two years ago, he was a co-sponsor of card check. He can try to waive it as a shield, but true conservatives in Pennsylvania don't trust him, and they shouldn't. The way he's been flipping around his positions of late, it's clear that there's no ideal he won't compromise or surrender for political gain. And if next year he decides card check is politically advantageous, he'd flip right back in support. If conservatives want a true and reliable foe of card check representing them, they have no choice but to back Toomey. And they will.
It's going to be a slaughter.
The fact sheet is here. The approach is shrewd. It emphasizes the democracy promotion goal of the policy change and discusses what Cuba is - an authoritarian regime. At the same time, it is important to not overestimate what it is, as Steve Benen seems to:
The hardline restrictions imposed by the Bush administration, which only followed in the footsteps of restrictions imposed by every other modern president . . .
This is simply incorrect. The freest time for US-Cuba relations actually occurred during the Carter Administration. This policy does not match Carter's Cuba policy. It is more like Bill Clinton's. More . . .
In a related story I missed from a few days ago, the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) announced its support for a new approach to Cuba:
The leading organization for Cuban exiles here is calling on the White House to expand relations with Cubas government, and funnel much more public and private American money to the Cuban people. A 14-page proposal from the group, the Cuban American National Foundation, lays out what the document calls a break from the past that would chart a new direction for U.S.-Cuba policy.
It is the basis of an ongoing discussion with the Obama administration, White House and foundation officials said, and it amounts to the groups most significant rejection of a national approach to Cuba that it helped shape and that has been defined by hostility and limited contact with the island.
. . . In a reversal from the groups founding principles, he said American policy should focus not on sanctions but on proactive policies that direct resources to the island.
. . . Robert Pastor, a professor of international relations at American University, said the document was striking for both its new ideas and its repudiation of policies that the group once favored. It basically says previous efforts have failed the embargo didnt work, said Mr. Pastor, who was President Jimmy Carters national security adviser for Latin America. That, from the Cuban American National Foundation, is a very significant statement.
I knew the main founder and most prominent member of the CANF, the late Jorge Mas Canosa, and discussed these very issues with him and other parts of the CANF membership in the mid-1990s.
As today, the CANF and Cuban-Americans were reviled openly in progressive circles. Mas Canosa himself won a libel suit against The New Republic when Ann Louise Bardach penned an article labelling him as a "gangster" and "mafioso."
Unfortunately, instead of arguing in good faith and without personal invective, too many progressives insist on treating Fidel Castro as a paragon and those who oppose him as pariahs. It is a ridiculous approach, as stupid as the embargo itself. Luckily, the Obama Administration has rejected the strident approach and is emphasizing its commitment to promoting democracy and human rights in Cuba. It is the right way to build consensus towards the lifting of the embargo and taking more proactive step to promoting democracy in Cuba.
Speaking for me only
It's a sure bet that the Minnesota Supreme Court will end up having to handle the appeal of the final decision in the Coleman-Franken election contest trial. But as many as four of the seven justices could end up recusing themselves from the case. [...]
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FDL's good friend Howie Klein of DownWithTyranny! caught something interesting over the weekend: Namely, that Minnesota State Supreme Court Justice Christopher Dietzen, a Pawlenty appointee and someone who may be the court's most partisan member, has[...]
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