Edwards, Now Seasoned, Elbows His Way Into the Field

Edwards, Now Seasoned, Elbows His Way Into the Field By Dan Balz, Washington Post Staff Writer

John Edwards will be able to run to the left of Clinton in a party whose base has shifted leftward during the Bush presidency. And this time, questions about lack of experience will go first to Obama. …

But he had a ready answer this week to the question of national security experience: Bush had the most experienced team in history, and still the United States ended up in a mess in Iraq. Experience, he said, is not a guarantee of good judgment. …

Edwards has settled comfortably into the left-of-center position in the Democratic field, pairing positions that excite the party’s liberal base with an upbeat message of hope and optimism. He has worked to deepen his relationships with organized labor, especially in Nevada, which is holding an early 2008 caucus, and he will challenge Clinton and Obama for the endorsements of key unions.

Edwards supports universal health care, which he said means health care for every American, not just most. “As you remember from 2004, there were a bunch of people waltzing around saying they had a universal health care plan that didn’t cover everybody,” he said. “Politicians tend to do that.”

He said he is examining two ideas and weighing whether to support a more ambitious and costly plan or one that may be more politically achievable. But he said both would meet his test of universality. …

Mass. Governor’s Rightward Shift Raises Questions

Mass. Governor’s Rightward Shift Raises Questions By Dan Balz and Shailagh Murray, Washington Post Staff Writers

As he prepares for a 2008 presidential campaign, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) has championed the conservative principles that guided President Ronald Reagan, become an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage and supported overturning the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

It was not always so. Twelve years ago, Romney boasted that he would be more effective in fighting discrimination against gay men and lesbians than Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), distanced himself from some conservative policies of the Reagan administration, and proudly recalled his family’s record in support of abortion rights.

The apparent gulf between the candidate who ran for the Senate in 1994 and the one getting ready to run for president has raised questions as to who is the real Mitt Romney. Is he the self-described moderate who unsuccessfully challenged Kennedy in the year of the Republican landslide, the self-described conservative now ready to bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, or merely an ambitious and adaptable politician? The answer could be crucial to Romney’s presidential ambitions.

Atheist Chic

Atheist Chic – Los Angeles Times by Dan Neil

The revenge of the godless nerds is well underway at your local Barnes & Noble. … [It is what] Wired magazine last month called the “new atheism”—I prefer to think of it as “atheist chic” ….

Despite the recent gains among free thinkers, atheism is still hugely unpopular. … There are few publicly confessed atheists—the illusionists/debunkers Penn and Teller come to mind. Comedian Bill Maher, though not strictly an atheist, is, let’s say, without benefit of clergy. The cadre of the damned —Sagan, Susskind, Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, et al.—won’t sell a fraction of the books culture warrior Bill O’Reilly will sell this Christmas, which kind of makes sense. Merry Christmas! Your God is a fraud!

I am a white Anglo-Saxon male born in late-20th century America—in other words, one of the most privileged beings to walk the earth. And yet insofar as my godlessness is concerned, I am a member of a despised minority. It’s like being gay.

I do appreciate the company, and the ammunition in these books, and the occasional exchanged glance of solidarity in the bookstore. But I’m just slightly alarmed. The new atheism is pretty hard-core, militantly insisting we challenge religiosity wherever we meet it, or else enable its darker extremist tendencies. In other words, the new atheism is on a quest for conversion. Having insisted on tolerance of our non-faith, Dawkins and Harris’ take-no-prisoners orthodoxy would have us be intolerant of others’ faith. Oh boy, just when I was beginning to enjoy being an atheist.

I can’t bring myself to confront others on the truth-data of their religious beliefs, even if they do involve some strange convoluted myth of Old Testament prophesy and Hellenistic blood cults. I was brought up better than that. Believe what you like, insofar as it does not interfere with my lack of belief. Believe in Thor’s mighty hammer, for all I care. Tell me Merry Christmas when I’m coming out of Wal-Mart. And happy holidays right back at ya.

Somalia — the Sick Man of Africa

U.S. Sees Growing Threats In Somalia Al-Qaeda’s Influence, Possible War With Ethiopia Are Concerns; By Karen DeYoung, Washington Post Staff Writer

Al-Qaeda, long hovering in the shadows, has established itself as a presence in the Somali capital, say U.S. officials, who see a growing risk that Somalia will become a new haven for terrorists to launch attacks beyond its borders.

Meanwhile, a major war — promoted and greeted approvingly by Osama bin Laden — looms between Somalia [Muslim] and Ethiopia [Christian], threatening a regional conflagration likely to draw more foreign extremists into the Horn of Africa.

Among administration officials, Congress, U.S. allies and other interested and fearful parties, there is a rising sense that Somalia is spinning rapidly out of control. …

“The Council of Islamic Courts is now controlled by . . . East Africa al-Qaeda cell individuals,” Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Jendayi Frazer said of Mogadishu’s new rulers. …

In a taped statement released in July, bin Laden called on Somalis to begin preparing for regional war. He recalled the 1994 withdrawal of U.S. military forces after a warlord attack killed 18 U.S. troops, saying, “This time, victory will be far easier.”

U.S. intelligence officials described the statement at the time as part of bin Laden’s failing claim to the leadership of a worldwide Islamic movement, despite the dispersion of the al-Qaeda network by the U.S. terrorism fight. Now they are not so certain.

Events in Somalia could provide an immediate spark for a wider war in the Horn of Africa; the roots of such a conflict would be tangled in complicated, long-standing regional animosities. The United Nations reported last month that Ethiopia has sent thousands of troops to help prop up the two-year-old transitional government in Baidoa. The same report said Eritrea, whose 1970s war with Ethiopia is still smoldering over an unsettled border dispute, has deployed thousands of troops to train and fight alongside the Islamists. Arab neighbors and sympathizers are also reportedly providing funds.

Ethiopia, a Christian-dominated nation, also fought a war with Somalia in the 1970s, over the ethnic Somali and largely Muslim Ethiopian province of Ogaden.

Last week, Somali Islamists threatened a “major attack” if the Ethiopians do not withdraw by Tuesday. Ethiopia has said, in essence, bring it on.

Somalia descended into chaos after U.S. and U.N. troops withdrew in 1994, with warring clans competing for power and the rest of the world turning away. When the Islamist push began several years ago, the Bush administration started paying attention — and funding locally unpopular warlords to gather intelligence and gird for battle.

“By making a bad bet on the warlords to do our bidding,” incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) charged last week, “the administration has managed to strengthen the Courts, weaken our position and leave no good options. This is one of the least-known but most dangerous developments in the world, and the administration lacks a credible strategy to deal with it.

John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group, who worked on Africa issues in the Clinton National Security Council and State Department, called the current administration’s policy “idiotic.” Tacit U.S. support for Ethiopia’s military incursion has “incalculably strengthened” the Courts’ appeal to Somali nationalism and “made our counterterrorism agenda nearly impossible to implement,” he said.

Duhbya: “He’s King Midas in reverse, he’s King Midas with a curse.” mjh