Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Assessing the Candidates: Edwards and Gore

Moving on, here are a few thoughts on the other big two, Al Gore and John Edwards.

John Edwards

Polls. Percent of electorate who have heard of this candidate - 85%. Favorable - 62%. Definitely support this candidate - 15%.

Primaries. If California doesn't jump in before Super Tuesday, Edwards has been dealt the best hand in the primaries. He finished second there in 2004, and his "two Americas" position strikes a strong chord with prairie populists. He currently leads all candidates there, including locals Barack Obama and Tom Vilsack. He'll get killed in New Hampshire, but should win South Carolina. That leaves Nevada, itself a fairly populist state. If, going into Super Tuesday, he has won two states and finished second in a third, he'll fare strongly in the south and probably in Utah and Oklahoma. Edwards is currently the three man nationally, but a strong showing in the early primaries would elevate him--possibly to the nomination. If Cali jumps in, however, he'll get killed.

Strengths. Edwards' strength is his populist message. Obama's easygoing manner give him the patina of populism, but Edwards has been peddling "two Americas" for four years. If the election turns on the economy, Edwards is in a good position. He's also gotten a fair amount of credit for his transparency and honesty--witness his nuanced answer to Russert about gay marriage. He could be strong with swing voters because of his Southern, religious, family-values background.

Weaknesses. Unfortunately for Edwards, Obama has joined the race. Obama is Edwards measure on family values and religion and can talk populism. Edwards also seems insubstantial in a way Obama doesn't. Edwards is uncomfortable talking about foreign policy, and it clearly doesn't excite him. This is one of the biggest problems he has, because Hillary's going to be hammering foreign policy.

Blogger/grassroots Love. Edwards has a reserve in the bank from 2004, and could win bloggers' hearts along with grassroots bread-and-butter Dems; however, he's going to have to jump Obama for their love. Call it a five, with room to grow.

Al Gore

Polls. Percent of electorate who have heard of this candidate - 97%. Favorable - 54%. Definitely support this candidate - 17%.

Primaries. It's a little hard to know how Gore would fare in the primaries. As his numbers show, he's off the radar right now. Having been in the wilderness for eight years has left him a shadowy figure for most people, though those, like me who know what he's been up to are amazed by his work. The question is, if he jumped into the race, would he be "Inconvenient Truth" Al or Al 2000? My assumption is that he is done running for the wrong reasons, and he'd be willing to risk losing on his own merits this time around. Based on that assumption, the primaries look very good.

He registered the second-highest percentage ever in Iowa in 2000, just a few points less than native son Tom Harkin. Hillary would still do well in New Hampshire, but his long-held position on Yucca Mountain would make him a fave in Nevada, and the Southern states would no longer be a grant to Edwards. Add in that he's the only candidate who can credibly compete in Hollywood (he may be an Oscar winner by the end of the month), and he poses the most serious challenge to Hillary.

Strengths. Gore is mostly upside. He has the most foreign policy cred and can outmuscle Hillary while endearing himself to the antiwar left. He is leading the charge on global warming, which could be a major issue by next year. He has the same connections Hillary does in fundraising, and could raise buckets of money in a short time. He is also, I believe, the only candidate besides Obama who can truly inspire. I say this because I was dead set against him in 2000, but I've become inspired by him since.

Weaknesses. Gore's main weakness is his wooden persona and wonky nature--on the podium he rarely scintilates. But everyone knows this already. Would people be willing to give him another shot remains the final question.

Blogger/grassroots Love. Gore inspires more love than Obama. He would have a ferocious grassroots effort. There's still some room to grow, so I'll call it an 8.

Sources: Time's Election Guide,, SurveyUSA (NH results), Strategic Vision (Iowa results)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Not that Old

Fact of the day. It is his excellency Dick Cheney's birthday today. He is younger than you think. By comparison, a couple other folks:
George W. Bush: 60 (July 6, 1946)

John McCain: 70 (August 29, 1936)

Dick Cheney: 66 (January 30, 1941)
I thought Cheney was substantially older than Dubya. You recall when they were elected, there was a lot of talk about how Cheney wouldn't even make it through his first term. He was only 58 when they won the election.

Assessing the Candidates: Clinton and Obama

The race for President is actually more pressing than it seems, particularly on the Dem side. Hillary Clinton has all the money and shocking name recognition; any candidate who hopes to knock her off her game has got to demonstrate a serious campaign by mid-year in terms of polling numbers and money raised, or they will see all support vanish. By July, we'll have three or four serious contenders and a bunch of pretenders. Right now, those folks look to be Obama, Edwards, Clinton, and possibly Gore. (Gore is the only candidate who can bide his time and enter late.) Here's how things look now.

Hillary Clinton

Polls. Percent of electorate who have heard of this candidate - 98%. Favorable - 58%. Definitely support this candidate - 28%.

Primaries. The primaries don't line up all that well for Hillary, and this could be a problem. In a recent poll in Iowa, she was trailing Obama and Edwards, as well as Iowa governor Tom Vilsack. Nevada's next, and I haven't seen any polling there. However, she does have a serious lead in New Hampshire (without Gore in the poll). If Edwards is still alive by South Carolina, Hillary will potentially be just 2 for 4 heading into Super Tuesday, with ten states. These also aren't a fantastic distribution: Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, and North Carolina are all likely to go to Gore, Obama, or Edwards. She will likely win in Delaware and New Jersey. That leaves a strange mix with Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Utah left up for grabs. The X factor is California, which is considering jumping in early. Hillary has the money and the operation to win in Cali, which could be the game-changer.

Strengths. Hillary will alienate a lot of people the average Dem should easily carry (like me), but she'll win over a number of women who would not otherwise vote for a Democrat. She's positioned herself as tough in foreign policy, and although her vote for the war will hurt her with the base, being a woman may innoculate her against the worst Cleland-ing by the GOP. She will also have all the money she needs. Times two.

Weaknesses. Hillary may win the nomination, but she will never inspire the nation or capture anyone's attention. She is the most highly polished politician since ... well, since Bill. She is vulnerable to an optimistic populist in the Kennedy mode. All three of her serious contenders are trying to play that role, and they will inspire some factions. If any of them catch fire, Hillary could get knocked out early.

Blogger/grassroots Love. On a scale of 1 to 10, where one is Bush and ten is Dean, give Hillary a four.

Barack Obama

Polls. Percent of electorate who have heard of this candidate - 78%. Favorable - 70%. Definitely support this candidate - 22%.

Primaries. Obama is such a wild card, it's hard to know how he'll do in the primaries. One thing's for sure--he could win Iowa. He's already second there, and he could capture the hearts of the Iowans, who have often given their delegates to a fringe candidate. But after that, who's to say? Obama's not enough on anyone's radar right now to measure. His strategy is to create a large national upswell and hope it carries him through the dodgy bets in New Hampshire and South Carolina and that a few maverick states like Arizona and New Mexico go for his message.

Strengths. Obama's all about optimism, honesty, and down-home familiarity. People like him because they all feel he's like them, but a little smarter and more noble. Americans hate politics, but from time to time, they fall in love with a politician who seems to subvert politics for the good of the country. If politics is about to make a shift toward transparency and away from spin and big money, Obama could really make a move on Hillary.

Weaknesses. Experience, both in office and on the trail. Does he have the foreign policy chops to stand up to Giuliani or McCain--never mind Hillary? He's running an insurgent candidacy like Ross Perot, but will he flame out like Perot did? The next five months are critical for Obama. If he hasn't emerged as the central serious Hillary foe, he may never make it.

Blogger/grassroots Love. A very cautious 7--though that could go sharply in either direction once he rises in national prominence. A better-than-even shot of being the Dean of 2008, both in terms of money and attention.

Tomorrow: Edwards and Gore.

Sources: Time's Election Guide,, SurveyUSA (NH results), Strategic Vision (Iowa results)

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Iowa Caucuses

Despite an outpouring of support and enthusiasm from my six readers, I regret to announce that I have decide against forming an exploratory committee to run for President. As a member of the minority of Americans not running for the nomination, I have therefore turned my attention to the majority, and who will win my invaluable support. (My backing in 2004 was instrumental to bouying the Kucinich, and later, Dean campaigns during their slow failures.) I begin by looking at the eye of the needle, the Iowa Caucuses, though which the eventual winner must thread him/herself a little less than a year from now.

Here's what we know: the Iowa Caucuses are a terrible predictor of who will receive the nomination, but they're really good at determining who won't. Except in very rare cases, the candidate who receives the nomination has finished in the top two in Iowa. And those rare cases have very specific factors.

In1992, when Clinton finished third (fourth, if you consider the Iowans who voted "uncommitted"). But that was a weird year, because Iowa Senator Tom Harkin sucked all the wind out of the state by winning 76% of the vote--more than any candidate in history (including incumbents) and 28 points higher than the next closest non-incumbent received (Mondale in '84). A second exception came in '88, when eventual nominee Mike Dukakis was edged out by Midwesterners Paul Simon (Illinois) and Dick Gephardt (Missouri).

To win the Presidency, then, you must be in the top two unless you're running against a candidate from Iowa or a neighboring state. It's not an exact science, but it puts into context the candidates in '08, three of whom are heavy hitters and one of whom could become one if he enters the race (Gore). It's possible that Gore won't enter the race and that the big three (Clinton, Edwards, and Obama) will stay alive by virtue of a one, two, three finish--after all, Obama's from Illinois.

But winning Iowa isn't always the greatest thing. Of the last seven non-incumbent caucuses, the eventual nominee won only four. On the Republican side, where there were fewer non-incumbent elections eventual nominees went two of four.

However, Iowa's a better predictor of the mood of the country (if not its politics). The eventual Presidential winner won the popular vote in Iowa eight of nine times (including 2000, when it went for Gore). The only outlier is '88, when Iowans gave Dukakis a resounding ten-point win. That was also the only election in which Iowans were more than just a percent or two off the national vote (except in '84, when neighboring-stater Mondale got 6% more in Iowa, in a losing effort, than he got nationally).

So for the Democratic candidate looking to change the curtains in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, these are some key things to remember: Iowans reflect the mood of the country in broad terms; being out of step with Iowans is a bad thing. Winning Iowa isn't any prescription for winning the country, but losing it big means not being around to win the nomination in the subsequent primaries (this year in Nevada, New Hampshire, and South Carolina).

This post has been updated. One of the interns caught a typo; I've beaten him for missing it before we went live.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Death of the Alternative

Bicycle riding has one virtue that exceeds the others (the rush of an oncoming Nissan Armada, the random sneak downpour): occasional epiphanies. As I listened to Throbbing Gristle on the way in to work this morning, I wondered what had become of alternative music. I mean, I know what has become of it--I've been slowly making up for ten lost years by gathering it together on my iPod. But nearly all alternative music is catchy, gentle, and melodic. It is also sincere and pleasant, which distinguishes it from commercial music, which, true to its name is so incincere and over-polished that it sounds like a series of ad jingles.

In the 1970s, before media fragmentation, mainstream culture was ubiquitous. We had three TV stations, a few radio stations, the local paper, and that was it. Music was dominated by vanilla trends and we were all subjected to the same crap. In the summer of 1975, the Billboard chart-toppers included the Captain and Tennille, John Denver, Wings, the Eagles, and Glen Campbell. We were all torn apart by the Captain and Tennille's love, but for different reasons.

Because the force of popular culture was so singular, it pretty much demanded a subculture to flourish. Punk got most of the attention as the counterpunch to Elton John (top song, November 1975), but even further out there was industrial music. In 1977, Throbbing Gristle released its first album, The Second Annual Report, and it was seriously harsh. (Here's a video of a performance from about 1980.) Industrial music plays with sonic noise, screams, machines, and heavy percussive elements to produce roughly the opposite effect in the listener as, say, Tony Orlando and Dawn (top song, August 1975). In my mindstream, that's a good thing.

In 1979, they released 20 Jazz Funk Greats, with a gauzy picture on the cover of the band looking like Abba (top song, April 1977). Of course, there weren't twenty songs on the album, they weren't jazz or funk, and they never became hits. In fact, the band was at Beachy Head, a famous last stop for England's suicidal. The intention, explicit in this recording, was to offer a rebuttal to the treacle that poured out of every radio. It was an alternative.

But with niche media, we don't have a mainstream. For those of us of a certain age, the 1970s meant not having access to the alternative. I didn't discover Throbbing Gristle until it was defunct, when I was in college. But now, with iTunes and the internet, being in backwater America doesn't mean you're isolated. The function of "the alternative" (in music, movies, art) is no longer to refute popular culture, it's to offer a non-commercial expression. So we get the Shins and the White Stripes, good bands that are nevertheless a challenge to no status quo.

It is really cool we're not all subjected to Olivia Newton John (top song, March 1975), but it sucks that we're also not driven into those far reaches of human expression. Now that we can go there, we apparently don't care to.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

State of the Union by the Numbers

As promised, here is the annual edition of SOTU by the numbers. Enjoy.

Length: 5,600 words
Times Bush was interrupted by applause: 64
Percent devoted to Iraqi strategy: 17%
Moments of applause during the Iraq segment: 5
Percent devoted to oil independence: 8%
Moments of applause during the global warming segment: 8

Portion devoted to:
Terrror/defense - 27%
Iraq - 17%
Honoring random invitees: 12%*
The economy - 9%
Health care - 8%
Oil independence/global warming - 8%
Education - 4%
Immigration - 4%

Times Bush used the following words:
Iraq, Iraqi, Iraqis - 34
War - 17
Kill, killers - 11
Free, freedom - 11
Victory - 2
Defeat - 0
Hope - 10

Terror, terrorism, terrorists
Osama bin Laden - 1
al Qaida - 10

Tax(es) - 10
Job(s) - 4
Earmarks - 4
Number of times "earmarks" has appeared in five previous SOTUs: 1 (2006)

Global warming - 0
Climate change - 1**

Health care - 4
Health insurance - 11

"Democrat majority" - 1

*Pro basketball player Dikembe Mutombo, entrepreneur and social activiest Julie Aigner-Clark, Wesley Autrey (saved someone on a NY subway), and soldier Tommy Rieman.
** Bush devoted a fair portion of his speech to ending dependence on oil and alternative fuels, but remains reluctant to actually utter the words "global warming"

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

State of the Union Speeches Through Time

By tradition, each year I do a "State of the Union by the Numbers" post, tracking the various themes in the speech (and the obvious exlusions). I'll no doubt have another version up tomorrow, so, in anticipation, here is a comparitive look back, at speeches given in '03, '04, and '06 (I was on my year-long sabbatical in '05).

Word Use

"Saddam Hussein"
_______________ 22______24______16
"Osama bin Laden"
_________ 3_______6_______2
________________ 1_______1_______6
____________ 13______21______10
______________ 4______13_______7
kill(ing) (ers)
_____ 5______11_______4
______________ 2_______1_______4
God_________________ 4_______3_______2

Percent of Speech Devoted To

Iraq and Terror
____________ 30%_____ 8%______9%
Taxes, tax cuts
Alternative energy
gay marriage
hyrdrogen cars
______ 3%______0%______0%
Aids in Africa______ 6%______0%______0%
health care_________ 6%_____10%______6%

See you tomorrow with our updated results.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Worst -case Scenario

The eve of the State of the Union speech, where, five years ago Dubya debuted his "axis of evil" theory, is a time for reflection. I just spent an hour or so on the phone with a friend considering the unpleasant specter of an invasion of Iran. His assumptions were two, and they aren't particular long-shots, and after that, things get pretty hairy pretty fast.

Assumption one: Iran is building nukes. This seems not only likely, but logical. The current White House has demonstrated that if it thinks you're weak, it may invade, but if it thinks you have nukes, it does not. Assumption two: Given the choice of a nuclear Iran or an invaded Iran, Bush will take option B. Neither of these assumptions is unreasonable, so where does it leave us?

We can't invade Iran conventionally; there's no time left in the current administration to prep drafted troops, which would surely be necessary to manage a country far more capable of repelling us than Iraq. We would therefore opt for "tactical nukes," hoping that the world wouldn't object too strenuously.

If Bush launched a tactical nuclear strike at Iran, here's what I think would follow. The EU would at the very least lead the world in condemning the US; it might actually conduct trade embargoes or take other economic measures. Russia and China would certainly condemn the US, and both would probably lead or join EU efforts to punish the US. The Middle East would go crazy, and I shudder to even think what regional acts might follow.

At home, protesters would take to the street. In Portland in 2003, protesters shut down bridges and even I-5. There would be riots and massive upheaval. States and towns would condemn Washington. In less blue towns, there might be citizen riots between pro-Washington hawks and anti-war peaceniks. And on and on.

I told my friend, and I believe it, that other people in Washington and the White House recognize these things and Bush could never get a nuclear strike off the ground. And yet the murmurs are there. I would love to see Bush strike a diplomatic note tomorrow and reassure us--let's hope he does.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Sweet Irony

"A federal judge today ordered former Congressman Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) to serve 30 months in prison for accepting gifts, favors and campaign contributions in exchange for official actions, making the six-term congressman the first elected official to be sent to prison in the influence-peddling investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff's activities."

"Senate Democrats and Republicans broke a difficult stalemate last night and approved 96 to 2 expansive legislation to curtail the influence of lobbyists, tighten congressional ethics rules and prevent the spouses of senators from lobbying senators and their staffs."

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Colbert Does a Borat

Dinesh D'Souza has a new book out called The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and It's Responsibility for 9/11. Dinesh D'Souza is an insane conservative, but this is redundant. Colbert had him on last night and elicited an amazing admission from him. Behold:
COLBERT: Well what can we do? Because I am with you that there is this depraved, destructive element in our culture that invites attacks by Islamic extremists. But what can we do to get the attacks straight to them and leave us alone? Because there are certainly real Americans like you and me and then liberal Americans who don't deserve our protection or our liberties.
(Just parenthetically, it bears mentioning that with a set-up like this, D'Souza should have recognized he was in the satiric crosshairs. He doesn't.)
D'SOUZA: Look, I'm not--we cannot convince the Islamic radicals, but--

COLBERT: But you can convince me.

D'SOUZA: Not you. There are a lot of traditional Muslims who have traditional values not very different from traditional Jewish or traditional Christian values.
COLBERT: And can we just hold hands in brotherhood and use our free hands to stone gay people? Is that possible?

D'SOUZA: No, I--Look, homosexuality exists all over the world--

COLBERT: Right, but it's our responsibility to stop it here, not everywhere in the world.

D'SOUZA: No, but there's a difference between something that's allowed or tolerated and something that is seen as given social sanction. That's I think what makes a lot of traditional Muslims uneasy. Here's all I'm saying: why don't we show them a little more of the traditional America. That will undermine bin Laden's argument that we're all a bunch of athiests; that will undermine bin Laden's idea that America is trying to project--

(I mean, Colbert's show is one of the more popular buzz shows in the country right now. It's not likely D'Souza is still unaware of his schtick, right? I mean, he really didn't just set Colbert up by arguing that bin Laden was right, did he?)
COLBERT: So what other cultural editing notes should we take from the terrorists?

D'SOUZA: It's not editing notes, it's a matter of--

COLBERT: No, I agree with you, there are some good ideas these guys have. This is what you're saying, that there's some part of our culture that are corrosive and you agree with some of the things they're saying.

D'SOUZA: I'm saying that--

COLBERT: No, you have the courage to say that, right? That you agree with some of the things that these radical extremists are against in America?

D'SOUZA: I'm more concerned--

COLBERT: Do you agree with that statement?

D'SOUZA: Well no, I'm, I'm--

COLBERT: Just do you agree with that statement?

D'SOUZA: I agree with it.

COLBERT: Okay, good. Finally, someone has the courage to say that there are things in America that the liberals do that are causing our destruction.

D'SOUZA: Okay, that's going too far.

COLBERT: Well, but that's what you're saying: (reading the title of D'Souza's book) The Cultural Left and It's Responsibility for 9/11. That's why I had you on the show, because I agree with that statement.
Jaw-droppingly amazing. I'll try to put up some video when its posted on YouTube. Crooks and Liars has the clip.

[Update. YouTube? YouTube? We don't need no stinkin' YouTube!

A Few Words on FISA

"Well, we had an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004 election. And the American people listened to different assessments made about what was taking place in Iraq, and they looked at the two candidates, and chose me, for which I'm grateful."
--President Bush, Jan 15, 2005
Here in Oregon, we had a rare snowstorm that blanketed the ground with a dense four inches, effectively shutting the city down for two days. Thus have I been lounging. However, this little bit of news did manage to register on my drowsy radar:
The Bush administration said yesterday that it has agreed to disband a controversial warrantless surveillance program run by the National Security Agency, replacing it with a new effort that will be overseen by the secret court that governs clandestine spying in the United States.
It turns out we did have an "accountability moment"--it just came in '06, not '04. The drumbeats of this moment have only begun, but it appears Bush is taking no chances--he's trying to scurry back to the right side of the law. Maybe it will work. He's a crook, but the legal accountability now rests with the Congress who, for six years, have let the President break whatever laws didn't tickle his fancy. My cynicism prevents me from regarding this with a lot of hope.

Take what we can get, I guess....

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Greenland Riveria

Before we get to the (sadly routine) news of catastrophic polar melts, here's an interesting bit of trivia about which I was ignorant: "Greenland is a largely self-governing region of Denmark."

The news? Turns out the Danes are about to have some sweet new property:

The sudden appearance of the islands is a symptom of an ice sheet going into retreat, scientists say. Greenland is covered by 630,000 cubic miles of ice, enough water to raise global sea levels by 23 feet.

Carl Egede Boggild, a professor of snow-and-ice physics at the University Center of Svalbard, said Greenland could be losing more than 80 cubic miles of ice per year.

“That corresponds to three times the volume of all the glaciers in the Alps.” Dr. Boggild said.

Although this is routine news, the science is definitely creepy.
The abrupt acceleration of melting in Greenland has taken climate scientists by surprise. Tidewater glaciers, which discharge ice into the oceans as they break up in the process called calving, have doubled and tripled in speed all over Greenland. Ice shelves are breaking up, and summertime “glacial earthquakes” have been detected within the ice sheet....

There is no consensus on how much Greenland’s ice will melt in the near future, Dr. Alley said, and no computer model that can accurately predict the future of the ice sheet. Yet given the acceleration of tidewater-glacier melting, a sea-level rise of a foot or two in the coming decades is entirely possible, he said. That bodes ill for island nations and those who live near the coast.
What's scary is that scientists keep getting caught off guard by how wrong they were on their predictions. Unable to account for all the factors creating global warming, they inevitably lowball the effects. The progression is geometric, not incremental, and it now seems axiomatic that estimates are lowballs.

I was at the Oregon Coast this weekend, and for the first time, I really began to study the geography. Oregon's lucky in many ways. The Coast Range of mountains run right up along the Pacific, in many areas, mountains climbing straight out of the water. For towns and buildings on any of these elevations, danger isn't imminent. But on much of the most coveted property behind sandy beaches, condos and hotels crowd around like interested spectators. We took a stoll down Rockaway Beach, which is one of Oregon's major tourist stops, and I noticed that the sea ran all the way up to a sandy 6-foot bluff on which these hotels were built, often not more than 20 feet from the edge. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to envision erosion gobbling this entire beach up, to the tune of millions of dollars of damage.

Things are going to change, and they will leave a lot of people impoverished and homeless. I don't have to look far to see who those people will be. Maybe the wise among us will begin speculating by buying up tracts of Greenland.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Polarization, An Alternate Definition

Andrew Sullivan quotes Mystery Pollster Mark Blumenthal, whose analysis of post-speech reaction went like this:
Both polls show similarly strong polarization, with most Republicans favoring a troop surge, and most independents and Democrats in opposition.
This is a rather slack-jawed frame, don't you think? Independents and Democrats represent two-thirds of the American public. Some might call that a large majority. The Republicans represent a recalcitrant minority, unable to accept reality and willing to go down with whatever ship George W. Bush captains.

The MSM have created what appears to be one of the most bulletproof memes in politics--that because the Republican core are barking mad and no one else in America agrees with them, this is an example of polarization. Actually, it means that the majority of the country is sane. This apparently excludes the MSM.

(And Blumenthal's a liberal.)

Votes in the 110th Congress

It's a little early to be reading tea leaves on the nature of the 110th Congress, but I found something interesting: of the four pieces of legislation the House has voted on, every one has been bipartisan, and three of the four substantially so.

HR 1____299-128______68 (all GOP)
HR 2____315-116______82 (all GOP)
HR 3____253-174______53 (mixed)
HR 35___239-188____ __8 (all GOP)

This is exactly the way to get things done: go for the low-hanging fruit and use your thin mandate to pass things that, while not controversial, have been blocked by a radical, right-wing Congress for six years.

Keep it up, and we may win the Presidency.

*HR 1 was a terrorism-provision bill, HR 2 increased the minimum wage, HR 3 authorized stem cell research, and HR 35 enhanced intelligence oversight authority.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Happy Blogoversary to Me

Four years and a day ago I launched my blogging "career" with this weighty intellectual post:

Friday, January 10, 2003

Testing the blog.

POSTED BY EMMA | 9:51 PM | Comment (0)

A predictive, if not particularly auspicious, beginning.

Surging into Madness

Bush Announces the commitment of 20,000 more troops to Iraq.

I'm not sure
how people are going to react to the speech President Bush gave last night--if CBS's coverage is indicative of anything, they'll call it historic and credit Bush for facing reality. Historic, yes. But although Bush faced immediate realities--the war is going badly and Americans hate it--he continued to express faith in the biggest, weirdest fantasy of all. Let's fast forward to the penultimate paragraph:
In these dangerous times, the United States is blessed to have extraordinary and selfless men and women willing to step forward and defend us. These young Americans understand that our cause in Iraq is noble and necessary ­ and that the advance of freedom is the calling of our time. They serve far from their families, who make the quiet sacrifices of lonely holidays and empty chairs at the dinner table. They have watched their comrades give their lives to ensure our liberty. We mourn the loss of every fallen American ­ and we owe it to them to build a future worthy of their sacrifice.
If I thought this was the usual Bush rhetoric, the ubiquitous war-as-domestic-politics, I might be able to credit him with an about-face. But there's no mistaking his genuine orientation. A large majority of the country, nearly every general and military strategist who will go on record, and the Iraq Study Group were all unanimous in their agreement that temporarily bumping up the troops will do nothing except kill more Americans and delay the inevitable. The Republican Party is running away from this insanity for their political lives. The only possible explanation for Bush to be pursuing this course is that he does, in fact, believe in its messianic-like import. He has not confronted the possibility that this thing was a botch. He's not accepting responsibility--far from it; he's attempting one, final heroic effort to stave off reality.

Let's move back to the top. He immediately got to the meat of his speech, no droning self-congratulation or faux-Churchillian grandeur. Instead, he ostensibly described how surprised he was that the Iraqi elections didn't result in the calm joy he anticipated. But listen to how he described it:
But in 2006, the opposite happened. The violence in Iraq ­ particularly in Baghdad ­ overwhelmed the political gains the Iraqis had made. Al Qaeda terrorists and Sunni insurgents recognized the mortal danger that Iraq's elections posed for their cause. And they responded with outrageous acts of murder aimed at innocent Iraqis.
Bush accepts what he sees on the television screen, but perverts it to fit his epic fantasy. A surprising turn of events, this civil war, but doesn't it verify his thesis that they were very bad, threatening people? It gets worse, sliding into exactly the same, doomed thinking of the neocons that led us into this mess in the first place:
The consequences of failure are clear: Radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits. They would be in a better position to topple moderate governments, create chaos in the region, and use oil revenues to fund their ambitions. Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Our enemies would have a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks on the American people. On September the 11th, 2001, we saw what a refuge for extremists on the other side of the world could bring to the streets of our own cities. For the safety of our people, America must succeed in Iraq.
Bush did take a rhetorical hard line against slacker Iraqis, promising he would "hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced." But given his unstinting support for Operation Iraqi Debacle, I don't know how this amounts to anything more than window dressing. When this surge meets its unavoidable conclusion, this man is going to be no more prepared to accept that reality than today, when, to put it mildly, the writing is on the wall.

Finally, there is in all of this madness a striking note of vanity which prevents me from feeling much pity for Bush.
Victory will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved. There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship. But victory in Iraq will bring something new in the Arab world ­--a functioning democracy that polices its territory, upholds the rule of law, respects fundamental human liberties, and answers to its people. A democratic Iraq will not be perfect. But it will be a country that fights terrorists instead of harboring them ­ and it will help bring a future of peace and security for our children and grandchildren.
If Bush can't let go of his meta-fantasy about the role of Iraq in the war on terror, he's also not willing to give up his fantasy about joining Roosevelt in the pantheon of American royalty. His vanity pollutes whatever purer intention he might have taken into the war, and it's indecent for him to imagine the rich reward of history now, when American kids and Iraqi civilians are dying for it.

It was a weird speech. I won't soon forget it. He achieved, if nothing else, a historic moment.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

[Crosspost] Senator Smith, What's Your Iraq Strategy?

From BlueOregon

Strategy (n) - In military usage, a distinction is made between strategy and tactics. Strategy is the utilization, during both peace and war, of all of a nation's forces, through large-scale, long-range planning and development, to ensure security or victory. Tactics deals with the use and deployment of troops in actual combat.
Oregon Senator Gordon Smith made an astute poltical move following the election when he decided to break with the White House on Iraq. The war has become a political liability, and all the more so for red senators in blue states. Smith burnished his "moderate" cred by leading the charge, and must hope people remember his "courage" in two years. (The cynical among us might wonder how joining 70% of electorate on an issue represents courage, but then, we're just hacks and bloggers.)

But even if Smith has gotten leery about the quagmire of the sands, he hasn't been particularly adept at explaining what he would do instead. Yesterday he was interviewed by Lars Larson, and he had this to say:

Lars: Well then, do you favor a pull-out of American troops?
Smith: Not--I favor a repositioning, a new footprint in Iraq that does the things I've just described...
Lars: Where would you put them?
Smith: Well, I would put them on the near horizon, within Iraq, to continue to provide the things which are in America's interest to provide.

Again my cynicism rises--this looks a whole lot like trying to have it both ways--but I will try to stifle my dark suspicions and take the Senator at his word. He wants to bug out of Baghdad so that our troops, from a safe remove, might continue "to provide logistics, machinery, weaponry, sharing intelligence, and even provid[e] interdiction." For Smith, it's time for the Iraqis to "take this fight" because "this is their country." That's the plan? Fair enough.

But even so, these are merely tactics, not a strategy for Iraq. In fact, we have never heard a strategy for this war from the White House or its supporters on the hill. Troop movements are means to accomplish an end. But what end? This is the enormously difficult question, one that the White House has assiduously avoided discussing. Now that the solutions are few and bad, it will take real courage to offer a plan that must surely deliver far less than the White House has promised for the nearly four years of this debacle.

For Gordon Smith to be a real leader on this issue, he's going to have to step forward with more than a series of short-term tactics. What outcomes does he think are possible? What is the comprehensive plan he's offering to achieve them? Representative Blumenauer has such a plan in the hopper (I'll link it when the plan is online)--would Smith be willing to sign on with Earl? If not, what are his strategic goals and plan for accomplishing them? Until Senator Smith comes forward with such a plan, I'm not willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on his new transformation. Let's see some real courage first.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Why You're Liberal

Cool article in Psychology Today that explains why people choose their political affiliations. Actually, it's way more than cool. Some very revealing findings demonstrate why you're liberal (in a nutshell, because you're well-balanced and mentally healthy):
As kids, liberals had developed close relationships with peers and were rated by their teachers as self-reliant, energetic, impulsive, and resilient. People who were conservative at age 23 had been described by their teachers as easily victimized, easily offended, indecisive, fearful, rigid, inhibited, and vulnerable at age 3. The reason for the difference, the Blocks hypothesized, was that insecure kids most needed the reassurance of tradition and authority, and they found it in conservative politics.

The most comprehensive review of personality and political orientation to date is a 2003 meta-analysis of 88 prior studies involving 22,000 participants. The researchers—John Jost of NYU, Arie Kruglanski of the University of Maryland, and Jack Glaser and Frank Sulloway of Berkeley—found that conservatives have a greater desire to reach a decision quickly and stick to it, and are higher on conscientiousness, which includes neatness, orderliness, duty, and rule-following. Liberals are higher on openness, which includes intellectual curiosity, excitement-seeking, novelty, creativity for its own sake, and a craving for stimulation like travel, color, art, music, and literature.

The study's authors also concluded that conservatives have less tolerance for ambiguity, a trait they say is exemplified when George Bush says things like, "Look, my job isn't to try to nuance. My job is to tell people what I think," and "I'm the decider." Those who think the world is highly dangerous and those with the greatest fear of death are the most likely to be conservative.

I could excerpt more, but it's probably better for you to just go read the whole thing.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Symbolism of Gerald Ford

At the moment Idaho was shifting from purple to (sugar) beet red, Gerald Ford sat in the White House. I lived in a home with two mid-century labor Democrats (my parents) who were excited about Jimmy Carter, but they seemed to be the last holdouts. Idaho had had its experiment with the Democratic Party, having gone for LBJ in '64, but ten years later, it was spoiling for a movement conservative. (In 1980, Reagan beat Carter by 41 points.) Idaho ultimately went for Ford, but no one was happy about it. People said his name with boredom, as if it should always be preceded by the word "Oh"--"Oh, Ford. He's fine, I guess." Dems didn't hate him and Republicans didn't love him.

So it was with serious mystification that I watched the beatification of Jerry this past weekend. There was much about Ford to like as a person--he scooped up his own dog's poop off the White House lawn--but really, he was no great shakes as a President. He was playing out the last 30 months of another man's second term, and he governed like a congressman not a president. He didn't make any major policy gaffes, but he isn't remembered for anything except pardoning Nixon, for which he is now uniformly celebrated. (Also bizarre.)

And still: "It was said of Franklin D. Roosevelt that he had a second-class intellect but a first-rate temperament. Something of the same might be said of Jerry Ford." (WaPo)

These kinds of comments--from far right, left, and center--were the norm. I heard a word or two of dissent on the Nixon pardon, but even those were half-hearted. So how could a man go from a legacy of oblivion in 1980 to this universal praise in 2006? In a word: Bush.

Ford, a cipher among presidents, is the perfect symbol for all that Bush is not, and Americans jumped at the chance to celebrate his not-Bushness. At this point, conservatives are as sick of Bush as liberals; they realize his arrogance, ignorance, and incompetence threatens to put them in the minority for years to come. Whatever glory came with Reagan has died irrevocably with Bush's reign. Looking back at Jerry is, for conservatives, a pleasant reverie. While Bush stammers and smirks, they can turn to good 'ol Jerry, who was honest and straightforward and humble. Liberals, of course, remember Ford as one of the last non-insane Republicans, and although he does not stand in our mind as a pinnacle of achievement, we also enjoy locating a Republican who doesn't make us gag. (And he was from Michigan! Remember when there were Republicans who weren't from Texas?)

Jerry Ford was a vessel into which the nation poured its emotion. The mourning, however, wasn't for the dead president, but for the state of affairs under this living one. When a nation says "Thems were the days," what it really mean is, "Man, things sure suck ass now." Jerry may not have been a pinnacle; he just looks like one when you're standing in Death Valley. Had Ford died in 1996, I suspect we would have seen a muted, respectful adieu. In 2006, however, he stands as a symbol for everything that is wrong with the White House now.

Oh Ford indeed.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Pelosi in Power; Righties Squeal in Impotent Outrage

How are the newly-ousted righties handling their banishment from the halls of power? With their usual class and grace:
As the sun rises on the United States, the Democrats take over both houses of Congress -- aided in the Senate by an unrepentant socialist, Bernie Sanders, and numerous ideological socialists in the House who run on the Democrat banner....

But at RedState, we intend to fight. We will fight against government largesse, we will fight against Democrats intent on doing to Iraq what they did to Vietnam, and we will fight our own if our own choose to ignore the obvious lessons of 2006.

To the Democrats, we bid you welcome to the majority. And here at RedState, we fight on against you and your socialist cohorts. Oh, and now that you've got one branch of government, we dare you to try to use it without consulting the GOP.

Yes, no doubt consultation with the people who slander them is the first order of Democratic business.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Year in Review - The Quotes

Wait, is it 2007? I must be remiss in my annual review of the events. I shall make haste to address this oversight. Let's begin with some quotes.*

International Quotes
"The devil is right at home. The devil - the devil, himself, is right in the house. And the devil came here yesterday. Yesterday, the devil came here. Right here. Right here. And it smells of sulfur still today."
- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at the UN (referring to President Bush)

" 'Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman.' "
- Pope Benedict XVI quoting a 14th century Byzantine emperor in a speech that enfuriated Muslims across the world

The Decider

"I'm the decider, and I decide what is best. And what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense."
- President George W. Bush

"You know, one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror."
- Bush, in an interview with Katie Couric

"I think the national anthem ought to be sung in English, and I think people who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English."
- Bush, during the immigration debate

"We will stay the course. We will help this young Iraqi democracy succeed. And victory in Iraq will be a major ideological triumph in the struggle of the 21st Century."
- Bush, September

"Well, hey, listen, we’ve never been “stay the course,” George. We have been — we will complete the mission, we will do our job, and help achieve the goal, but we’re constantly adjusting to tactics. Constantly."
- Bush, October, in an interview with George Stephanopoulus

“Are you going to ask that question with shades on?”
- Bush, to blind reporter Peter Wallsten

The Shooter
"I'm the guy who pulled the trigger that fired the round that hit Harry."
- Veep Dick Cheney, days after shooting his friend Harry Whittington in the face

"My family and I are deeply sorry for all that Vice President Cheney and his family have had to go through this past week."
- Harry Whittington, apologizing to Cheney for getting in the way of his shotgun

“To the vice president's credit, he did own up to it. On FOX News he said the fault was his, he can't blame anybody else. Boy, it's amazing, the only time you get accountability out of this administration is when they are actually holding a smoking gun."
- Bill Maher

Election 2006

"This fellow here, over here with the yellow shirt, macaca, or whatever his name is. He's with my opponent. He's following us around everywhere. And it's just great. ... Let's give a welcome to macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia."
- Sen. George Allen, mocking a staffer of his opponent

"So where does the race stand now, with just over a month to go? (George) Allen has angered Blacks, Jews and Macacans, while (Jim) Webb has angered Women and The Horny. Virginia, now it's up to you to decide which one of these two men will help you build a bridge, to let's say, the early- to mid- 20th century."
- Jon Stewart, on the Virginia Senate race

“I still had a ham sandwich for lunch. And my mother made great pork chops.”
- Allen, in another gaffe, demonstrating his utter goyness

"If anybody is found to have hidden information or covered up information, they really should be gone."
- Speaker of the House Denny Hastert, amid the Foley scandal

"It does not appear to be affecting any of our races in any way."
- John Boehner, House Majority Leader, on the Foley scandal

"I'm lookin' at all these and addin' 'em up and I add up to a Republican Senate and a Republican House. You may end up with a different math, but you're entitled to your math, and I'm entitled to the math."
- Karl Rove, days before the election proved his math to be fuzzy


"When you call us, ladies and gentlemen, just so you know, we do have your phone number, and if you say anything untoward, obscene, or anything like that, Fox security will then contact your local authorities, and you will be held accountable."
- Bill O'Reilly, threatening Fox callers

"I have the feeling about 60% of what you say is crap."
- David Letterman to Bill O'Reilly

"When the president decides something on Monday, he still believes it on Wednesday -- no matter what happened Tuesday."
- Stephen Colbert, at the 2006 White House Corespondents Dinner

"Today I am announcing my intention to resign my seat in the House."
- Disgraced House Majority leader Tom DeLay, April

"The President said 'there's weapons of mass distruction;' the President said 'we can do it for $50 billion dollars;' the President said "we will be welcomed as liberators.' What makes you think that because the President said it that's the way it's going to be?"
- John Murtha

"And again, the Internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a big truck. It's a series of tubes."
- Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, describing the internet

"F***ing Jews. The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world. Are you a Jew?" And later: "What do you think you're looking at, sugar tits?"
- Mel Gibson, flushing his career down the toilet in a drunken fit
*To the best of my knowledge, these are all accurate, but it's a blog, so you never know...

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Soldiers: Iraq Was a Mistake

Somehow this news didn't make it into the Fox news cycle (or anywhere else for that matter): a December poll of active-service US soldiers found that 59% thought the Iraq war was a mistake.
Barely one in three service members approve of the way the president is handling the war, according to the new poll for the four papers (Army Times, Navy Times, Air Force Times and Marine Times). ... And the number who feel success there is likely has shrunk from 83% in 2004 to about 50% today.

The annual mail survey was conducted Nov. 13 through Dec. 22. Among the respondents, two in three have deployed at least once to Iraq or Afghanistan.
Other findings:
  • Three quarters think the military is spread too thin to be effective;
  • Only 47% believe the Iraq war is a part of the war on terror.
Fascinating, but it appears no one is listening.

What Goes Around ...

This is probably going to be bad in the long run, but it sure is satisfying to read today:
House Democrats intend to pass a raft of popular measures as part of their well-publicized plan for the first 100 hours. They include tightening ethics rules for lawmakers, raising the minimum wage, allowing more research on stem cells and cutting interest rates on student loans.

But instead of allowing Republicans to fully participate in deliberations, as promised after the Democratic victory in the Nov. 7 midterm elections, Democrats now say they will use House rules to prevent the opposition from offering alternative measures, assuring speedy passage of the bills and allowing their party to trumpet early victories.

House Republicans have begun to complain that Democrats are backing away from their promise to work cooperatively.
Those rules, of course, were passed by Republicans to disenfranchize Democrats, streamline the flow of graft in from K Street, and establish a permanent majority. Oh the irony, the delicious irony!

You'll take my boot on your neck, Republican dogs, and you'll like it!

Monday, January 01, 2007

3,000 Dead US Soldiers - Happy New Year!

In Buddhist theology, one of the central concepts is a term generally translated as "ignorance." The sense isn't a lack of knowledge, but rather the absence of insight into the nature of reality. This leads us to mistake what we are doing (acts of greed and violence, for example) as virtuous action. Buddhists do not regard this as a morally compromised position, like Christians view certain actions as evil; instead, it inclines them to consider all the ramifications of actions to locate the seeds of this ignorance. Most minds are conditioned by ignorance; understanding that ignorance helps prevent committing the most damaging acts. For those who are unaware that they are committing negative acts--or worse, those who are wholly convinced the acts they are committing are virtuous--the damage can be profound.

I mention all of this because we have passed yet another milestone of death--the 3,000th US soldier killed in Iraq. When we passed earlier milestones on that road--the 100th killed, the thousandth--it wasn't so obvious to most Americans that we were executing a dangerously confused, nonvirtuous war. Many, in fact, considered it an act of nobility and compassion. At 3,000, a growing number of people have seen some of the dimensions of ignorance that led us into this folly, but not all of them.

NPR ran a typical story this morning to celebrate this grim achievement. Renee Montaigne spoke with the parents of a dead servicemen about how hard it was to have lost their son. But it tells only a very small part of the overall suffering this war has caused. Throughout this entire war, we have neither heard from nor considered the Iraqi view. The number of Iraqi parents with dead children exceeds their US counterparts by a factor of at least 10 and surely much more. In the US, most Americans now want to put our suffering behind us and pull out: "sorry guys, guess that experiment in democracy and liberty was a bust--good luck!" Of course, much as the option of being invaded was not discussed with Iraqis, a US pullout will also come unilaterally.

The brain trust of the neocons, abetted by interventionist liberals, are a perfect example of Buddhist ignorance. They did not consider the actual cost of the invasion, and mistook their own motivation as virtuous. The waves of suffering that results, from shock and awe to civil war, to years or decades of instability, are the fruit of this ignorance.

A new year today. May it be filled with clearer thinking.