Sunday, December 30, 2007

Edwards Not Getting A Fair Shake

It's getting difficult to listen to commentary on the Iowa Democratic caucus without hearing someone say something about John Edwards akin to that asserted by Chris Wallace today on GOP TV Sunday: "It seeems like he's been living there since 2005."

Here, then, are some relevant statistics, courtesy of a 12/29/07 blog on dailykos:

Paid staff:
Kerry 2004: 120
Edwards 2008: 178
Obama: 300
Clinton: 400

TV advertising (in millions):
Kerry 2004: $2.73
Edwards 2008: $2.7
Obama: $8.3
Clinton: $6.5

Days spent in Iowa:
Kerry 2004: 76
Edwards 2008: 80
Obama: 78
Clinton: 66

To summarize: John Edwards has spent a few more days in Iowa than the favorites... and has a much smaller (paid) staff and has spent much less. And is running neck and neck.

Why such a close race, then? Iowa skews old, which helps Edwards. The nature of the caucus system (with Democrats) gives disproportionate weight to small gatherings, hence probably rural groups, and Clinton and especially Obama are weak in rural and small town America. Perhaps Iowa Democrats unlike, say, New Hampshire Democrats (many of them from suburban Boston and/or commuters to the Boston area) are somewhat populist economically. And unlike Democrats in the rest of the country, Iowans have come to know the candidates and thus do not overwhelmingly favor one over the other.

But the narrative having Edwards spending his entire life in Iowa has its advantages to the mainstream media. That way, depending on the outcome on January 3, the media already has its headline: a) Edwards loses, may have to drop out; or b) Edwards wins- but faces bigger hurdle in New Hampshire.

Why is this not mere paranoia on my part? Why do media figures persist in the ad hominem attack on Edwards as "angry?" In his piece of 12/19/07, in which he argues that Edwards, Huckabee, and Paul face similar elitist, anti-populist scorn from the establishment, Glenn Greenwald explains brilliantly:

It is very striking how little Edwards' substantive critique of our political system has penetrated into the national discourse. That's because the centerpiece of his campaign is a critique that is a full frontal assault on our political establishment. His argument is not merely that the political system needs reform, but that it is corrupt at its core -- "rigged" in favor of large corporate interests and their lobbyists, who literally write our laws and control the Congress. Anyone paying even casual attention to the extraordinary bipartisan effort on behalf of telecom immunity, and so many other issues driven almost exclusively by lobbyists, cannot reasonably dispute this critique.

Yet because that argument indicts the same Beltway culture of which our political journalists are an integral part, and further attacks the system's power brokers who are the friends, sources, and peers of those journalists, they instinctively react with confusion, scorn and hostility towards Edwards' campaign. They condescendingly dismiss it as manipulative populist swill, or cynically assume that it's just a ploy to distinguish himself by "moving left." In the eyes of our Beltawy press, the idea that our political system is "rigged" or corrupt must be anything other than true or sincerely held.

We will find out on Thursday whether Iowa Democrats are willing to buck the conventional wisdom of the insiders.

Quote of the Week

"The press, with Hillary Clinton, it's a poisonous relationship. It's a mutual disregard."

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post on CNN's Reliable Sources, 12/30/07

Friday, December 28, 2007

John Mccain continues his Modest Talking Express swing through the early primary/caucus states. Reacting on 12/27/07 in Urbandale, Iowa to the assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazhir Bhutto, the Arizona Senator astonishingly claimed "I think my record is clear -- 20 years, I've been involved in every national security issue that's faced this nation. And I have the judgment to handle it, and I've proven it."

Put aside McCain's early, fervent support for the disastrous war in Iraq. reported Barack Obama declaring on August 1, 2007 "I understand that President Musharraf has his own challenges. But let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. ... If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf will not act, we will." According to politicalticker.blogs.cnn (from, on Sunday, August 5, John McCain was quoted by the online edition of The State (a Columbia, South Carolina newspaper) as criticizing Obama's remark as "that's kind of typical of his naivete" for allegedly announcing beforehand that he would take action.

On 11/26/07 McCain responded to remarks of Mike Huckabee, who two days earlier had stated that if there were an "imminent threat" posed by terrorists inside Pakistan, he would respond regardless of Pakistan's sovereignty. Huckabee asserted "We need to make sure we are clear that if we have an actionable target in Pakistan, that we will take action on that target because if that helps save and preserve American people." The Repub sage from Arizona pounced, asserting "to say something like that is totally unnecessary and probably has a not beneficial effect on our Pakistani allies who are fighting against al Qaeda and with us in Pakistan."

The assassination of Bhutto, whether by a terrorist, some other militant, or a hit winked at by John McCain's buddy, Pervez Musharraf, has dealt a serious blow both to democracy and stability in Pakistan. But the mainstream media will continue to portray McCain as some sort of foreign policy expert as they imply that Obama, Huckabee, and John Edwards (the only candidate originally to agree with Obama's 8/07 position) as out of touch with global reality.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Quote of the Week

Just in time for Christmas, this from an American Baptist Church minister commenting on Jesus Christ:

"It's not what He would do that counts; it's what He wants from me."

-Peter Gomes, Professor, Harvard University, on the 12/24/07 edition of PBS' Charlie Rose

Happy (belated) Chanukah
Merry Christmas
As indicates here, surveys consistently have shown health care to be either the second or third most important political issue to Americans. One of the critical issues faced by presidential aspirants in formulating their health care policies is whether to include mandates, requiring Americans of all ages to carry health insurance. As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman noted of the candidates, "without a mandate, they find, the plan will fall far short of universal coverage. Worse yet, without a mandate health insurance will be much more expensive than it should be for those who do choose to buy it."

Clearly, the health care plan of every Democrat running for the top office is superior to that of any Republican. (No, we do not have the finest health care system in the world and, yes, there is a proper, increased, role for government.) Still, on which side of the mandate question does each Democrat, according to his or her website, fall?

First, we'll dispose of Dennis Kucinich- favorably, because he is the only candidate publicly supporting a single payer system, which obviously would provide health care for all. And now, an excerpt from each website (excepting that of Mike Gravel, whom I can't bring myself to care about):

Joe Biden: "While insuring all children must be our top priority, it is also important to offer uninsured adults access to health care." Verdict: no (Beware the euphemism "access.")

Hillary Clinton: "Individuals: will be required to get and keep insurance in a system where insurance is affordable and accessible." Verdict: yes.

Chris Dodd: "Universal coverage will be achieved through a shared mandate on individuals and businesses: universal coverage through universal responsibility." Verdict: yes.

John Edwards: "Once these steps have been taken, requiring all American residents to get insurance." Verdict: yes.

Bill Richardson: " Like auto insurance, all Americans will have to have health coverage and employers will pay their fair share of employee health care costs." Verdict: yes. (Krugman: "....while the enforcement of car insurance mandates isn’t perfect, it does greatly increase the number of insured drivers.")

And most critically-

Barack Obama: "Obama will expand the number of options for young adults to get coverage...." Verdict: no.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

President George W. Amnesty

White House insistence on granting retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies which have been sued for providing information to the National Security Agency reminds us of a disturbing tendency on the part of this President. Mr. Bush (in)famously granted Scooter Libby commutation of the prison sentence imposed upon the ex-Cheney aide for his role in exposing Valerie Plame Wilson as a covert CIA agent, and Mr. Bush has supported amnesty (oh, right, "Comprehensive Immigration Reform"*) for illegal immigrants. The list of Administration employees who have been involved in nefarious activities is long, and the involvement of Bush & Co. in illegal spying and selling of the war in Iraq have been well-documented. It is a Presidency which sniffs at lawbreaking and is partial to amnesty. An Administration allergic to the rule of law. The Amnesty Presidency.

*which is worse than amnesty, as I'll comment on at a later date.
Dead, for now. The effort by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.- Nev.) to amend the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, euphemistically dubbed the "Protect America Act," has been tabled to January. The pernicious amendment which lead to a threat by presidential candidate Chris Dodd (D.- Ct.) would have granted telecom companies retroactive immunity against lawsuits for their role in providing information enabling the National Security Agency to listen to telephone and Internet conversations. Dodd never technically began a debate, reports Sam Stein on, but talked for several hours, leaving the floor only once, during which colleagues filled in. Eventually, yearning to pass an appropriations bill before the Senate is adjourned for Christmas/New Year's, Harry Reid, an ardent supporter of the bill, tabled the measure.

According to Jonathan Weisman and Paul Kane at, an effort is being made to find a compromise, perhaps by substituting the federal government for the companies as a defendant in ongoing action. This effort is being spearheaded by Pennsylvania's Arlen Spector, whom the mainstream media like to portray as a "moderate," in an effort, I believe, to reinforce Repub philosophy that "government" is the problem and the corporate sector the solution. But there is little time left before the break and a bill therefore likely will have to be passed by the Senate thereafter, and reconciled with the bill passed by the House.

With sentiment expressed by Democrat Charles Schumer of New York, quoted as saying "those like myself, who are against immunity, really don't want to punish the phone companies as much as we want to hold the government accountable," Reid's support, and White House lust, for the legislation, the struggle of Chris Dodd and his allies appears especially heroic.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Quote of the Week

"And OF COURSE the old-guard Wall Street "so-last-century" GOP establishment power base is nervous. They courted the real deal, and now they GOT a LIVE one.... They grinned at their less-hip allies at the Prayer Breakfasts, and they smirked, because it didn't get in the way of free-market pollution of the environment or rapacious corporate profit-making.... Well, the old bosses brought it on themselves...." (emphasis Baitz's).

-Jon Michael Baitz, writing on on 12/18/07 about the role of GOP economic conservatives upon the rise of Mike Huckabee
Bill Clinton As Surrogate

On November 27, 2007 former President Clinton, to the disbelief of most, stated in Iowa that he opposed the war in Iraq "from the beginning." In his 12/14/07 interview with Charlie Rose, Bill Clinton said voting for Barack Obama is "rolling the dice" and "there are a lot of people who honestly believe what you have done for other people in your public life…is completely irrelevant, but what matters is what you symbolize.” Three days later in South Carolina, Clinton 42 commented of his wife "well, the first thing she intends to do, because you can do this without passing a bill, the first thing she intends to do is to send me and former President Bush and a number of other people around the world to tell them that America is open for business and cooperation again."

The latter statement was easily brushed aside by the Republican National Committee, which contended "in 2009, a Republican president will be working with our friends and allies abroad..." And Democratic primary voters who voted against Bush 41 when voting for Mr. Clinton might not be comforted by the implication that election of Mrs. Clinton might represent a Bush/Clinton dynasty.

And these controversial statements by the former President, and the suggestons that Senator Clinton's campaign is concerned about their potential impact, bring to mind the criticism of Al Gore's presidential election campaign of 2000. After George W. Bush was selected President, critics reveled in ridiculing Gore for not using in the campaign the popular President he had been serving for eight years.

Now we know why. Bill Clinton- who had less of a stake in Gore's election than he has in his wife's bid- is an excellent campaigner, but a loose cannon. The Gore forces would not have been able to limit Clinton's travels or efforts to Arkansas, or Arkansas and Tennessee, as some of the media types who took such glee in the Vice-President's defeat, imply. The involvement of President Clinton probably would have done more harm than good nationally and there is little chance it would have turned the tide in his home state. It is time for the critics to acknowledge that they have been wrong, that for all the strategic failures (such as the selection of Joe Lieberman as V.P. nominee) of the campaign, Al Gore lost the Presidency for other reasons, including the sliming of the candidate by the mainstream media and five Supreme Court justices who placed partisanship above law or country.
Sort Of Anti-Abortion

Mitt Romney has come out in defense of murder. No, he didn't put it so bluntly, but on the Sunday, December 16, 2007 edition of Meet the Press, the former Massachusetts governor condoned what he believes is murder. He was asked the following by moderator Tim Russert:

But when you say you support a human life amendment to ban all abortions across the country, what would--form would that take? If a woman had an abortion, would she be perceived a criminal? Would a doctor who performed it be perceived a criminal? You talked about your family relative who died from an illegal abortion, and yet President Romney is saying ban all abortion. And what would be the legal consequences to people who participated in that procedure?

Before Romney explained that a doctor performing an illegal abortion would be held accountable, such as by loss of license, he commented:

They would be like the consequences associated with the bill relating to partial birth abortion, which, of course, does not punish the woman. You, you wouldn't--I don't think anyone is calling for--maybe some of them, but no one I know of is calling for punishing the, the mother, punishing the woman.

So for Mitt Romney, the seqence would be: overturning Roe v. Wade; enacting state laws banning abortion; the woman seeks an illegal abortion; the doctor procured is penalized or prosecuted (Mitt a little hazy on which); the woman initiating the search for a killer and paying the fee is exonerated.

On abortion alone, there was more hypocrisy: earlier in the exchange, responding to Russert's query whether life begins at conception, Romney curiously stated "I believe, I believe from a, from a, a political perspective that life begins at conception. I, I don't, I don't pretend to know, if you will, from a theological standpoint when life begins." What does it mean that from "a political perspective" life begins at conception? As in, if I don't agree to this, I'll get killed in the Repub primaries? It was not asked, and it was not explained.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Democratic Presidential debate from Iowa on December 13, 2007 was nothing compared to the big political news of the day. As reports, Clinton advisor Bill Shaheen, husband of former governor and current U.S. Senate candidate Jeanne Shaheen, resigned on 12/13/07 after saying of Barack Obama the previous day:

The Republicans are not going to give up without a fight ... and one of the things they're certainly going to jump on is his drug use," Shaheen said. "It'll be, 'When was the last time? Did you ever give drugs to anyone? Did you sell them to anyone?' There are so many openings for Republican dirty tricks. It's hard to overcome.

The matter of illegal drug use was not initiated by the Clinton campaign. CNN notes "Obama has not shied away from bringing up his past use of drugs while on the campaign trail." Nevertheless, Shaheen apologized and said that the campaign had not authorized the remarks. Still, moral outrage predictably ensued. The candidate, Hillary Clinton, emphasized that she did not condone the statement. the media was horrified and Obama's chief strategist and his spokesman both condemned the comment, while candidate Obama took the high road, asserting that he did not think the incident represented an intent to plant a rumor. Condemnation was widespread, support absent, and Shaheen stepped down (though it won't be surprising if he later returns in some capacity).

Also predictable: no one asked whether Shaheen's statement was accurate. Would, if the Illinois Senator is nominated, the Repub Party be petty and demagogic enough to exploit drug use Obama admitted to taking part in as a young man? History being a guide, there are two possible answers: yes and yes.
Reflections on the Debate (Johnston, Iowa)- No. 4

The responses to debate questions by the candidate once a dark horse and now arguably the leading GOP aspirant (i.e., apparently ahead in the first state, Iowa) reflect a sharp political mind of another politician from Hope, Arkansas. However, in the Repub Presidential debate of October 12, 2007, the former Governor tried to have it both ways in a question about the role of the federal government in education- and was called on it by Tom Tancredo. Here is Huckabee's statement:

First of all, the whole role of education is a state issue. It's not really a federal issue. And the worst thing that we can do is to shift more burden, more responsibility, more authority to the federal government when more of it needs to go to the states.
But I think the federal government can play a pivotal role in -- primarily in helping to make sure that the best practices that are working in the states are shared with states who are struggling. Let me give you a couple of examples of what has to happen in all the states, and the federal government can at least share the data and the information.
One, personalize the learning for the student. We have 6,000 kids every day drop out in this country. They don't drop out because they're dumb; they drop out because they're bored to death. They're in a 19th-century education system in a 21st-century world. If we really are serious, then first of all we make sure that we build a curriculum around their interests rather than just push them into something they don't care.
Second thing, unleash weapons of mass instruction. I'm a passionate, ardent supporter of having music and art in every school for every student at every grade level -- (applause) --

Pretty amazing. Huckabee, playing to a Repub electorate, claims "the worst thing we can do is to shift more burden, more responsibility, more authority to the federal government." Moments later, playing to the educated, sophisticated audience which likely dominated the auditorium of the debate (and to the larger American audience), he asserts being "a passionate, ardent supporter of having music and art..."

Tom Tancredo would have none of it, noting "but you can't, I don't think, Governor, with all due respect, you can't say on one hand, you're against having government intervention and on the other hand, tell us that you want music and art and everything else in the school. That's not the job of a president. It is the job of a governor." One or the other, Governor- states' rights or a bigger federal role in art and music education.

And the moderator could have asked Mr. Huckabee, eager to apportion more class time to art and music, where, given a school day of determinate length, he intended to cut- gym, math, schience, history, or English. Still, it is so rare that a Repub conservative makes sense- and even more rare that a rival is able to counter a claim by Huckabee- that I couldn't resist its mention.
Reflections on the Debate (Johnston, Iowa)- No. 3

Two of the responses from former Mike Huckabee during the Repub Presidential debate sponsored by the Des Moines Register on December 12, 2007 highlight the political intelligence of the former Arkansas Governor.

Huckabee, who at some point will need to avoid being typecast as the candidate of the Religious Right, acknowledged the existence of global warming. But when asked about mandating increased use of biofuel, he stated "I don't think that's what's necessary" (and wisely avoiding noting anything as necessary). He also wisely, if insincerely, quipped "and I know on a day like today, it's hard to believe there is global warming, if anybody's been in Iowa on a day like today." Sure, Huckabee was pushing for a laugh, and didn't get it, but it did send an important message to conservative Republican voters: I'm not one of those "liberal nuts" who actually believe that long-term, global temperature change is more important that the temperature in one state in one country on one day is.

When the candidates were asked "what do you believe you could accomplish in your first year as president?" Huckabee replied, effectively, though disingenuously,

I think the first priority of the next president is to be a president of all the United States. We are, right now, a very polarized country, and that polarized country has led to a paralyzed government. We've got Democrats who fight Republicans, liberals fighting conservatives. The left fights the right.
Who's fighting for this country again? And somehow, we've got to quit even fighting among ourselves as conservatives and as Republicans, and start putting the better interest of our nation. If that doesn't happen, we'll get none of these things done. We've got to be the united people of the United States, and a president has got to somehow remind us that we are a great, resilient nation that has to stick together to solve all of these problems.

This comes off as an inspiring, patriotic statement ("we are a great, resilient nation that has to stick together to solve all these problems." Nothing about how George W. Bush has dedicated the last seven years to dividing the rich from the middle class, war supporters against war opponents, and the powerful generally from the American people. Nor how Mr. Huckabee's party, between and during election campaigns, broadens the chasm between people by diverting attention from the real needs of Americans to cultural wedge issues.
Reflections on the Debate (Johnston, Iowa)- No. 2

The third question of the Repub Presidential debate of December 12, 2007 came on the issue of taxes, arguably the GOP's favorite issue to demagogue. Des Moines Register vice president and editor Carolyn Washburn asked:

Who in this country is paying more than a fair share of taxes relative to everyone else: the wealthy, the middle class, the poor or corporations? (This is, as worded, actually a very good question).

Back to the pander scale, with 0 being straightforward and honest, 5 being top-notch pander. In reverse alphabetical order:

Thompson: "Five percent of Americans pay over half the income taxes in this country. 40 percent of Americans pay no income taxes at all. I think we need to concentrate on preserving the tax cuts of '01 and '03."

Translation: Let's cut everybody's taxes- especially those of the upper class. ("Five percdent of Americans pay over half the income taxes.) Pander: 4.

Tancredo: " Everyone that is presently paying tax, you could be -- you can make a case that they're paying too much. The reality is, of course, you need a different system entirely. We do need to move away from this archaic -- a system that taxes productivity, which is what we do, to a system that allows for a fair tax. I believe in that."

Translation: I want to cut everyone's taxes, and who can argue with something called a "fair" tax? Pander: 4.

Romney: "I don't stay awake at night worrying about the taxes that rich people are paying, to tell you the truth. I'm concerned about the taxes that middle class families are paying. They're under a lot of pressure. Gasoline's expensive. Home heating oil, particularly in the Northeast, is very difficult for folks. Health care costs are going through the roof. Education costs and higher education are overwhelming. And as a result, we need to reduce the burden on middle-income families in this country."

Translation: I care about the middle class. (No one loses a vote supporting the middle class, but where did he say the progressive middle tax should be cut?) Pander: 1.

Paul: "The most sinister of all taxes is the inflation tax and it is the most regressive. It hits the poor and the middle class. When you destroy a currency by creating money out of thin air to pay the bills, the value of the dollar goes down, and people get hit with a higher cost of living. It's the middle class that's being wiped out. It is most evil of all taxes."

Translation: See Romney. Pander: See Romney.

McCain: "I know that I'm happy to say low-income Americans, except for payroll taxes, don't pay taxes, but we've got to reform the tax code. Nobody understands it. Nobody trusts it. Nobody believes in it. And we have to fix it. And we can't raise taxes as our Democrat friends want."

Translation: I'm not really going to commit myself to anything except "reform." But in case you heard that I believe in working across the aisle, don't you believe it. That's why I'm using the noun "Democrat" as an adjective, to let you know I understand they're the enemy. Pander: 2.

Keyes: "who have spent overboard into deficits after promising us on the Republican side that they would limit the government, and then produced the highest budget deficits in the history of our country."

Translation: These politicans are just making me sick. Pander: 0 (not so wise to criticize Repubs in a Repub debate by implying, accurately, that they're even worse than the Democrats).

Hunter: "The tax that we're all paying that doesn't help anything -- it doesn't go to defense, it doesn't go to the roads, it doesn't go to medical care -- is the $250 billion-plus that we pay each year not to the federal government, to the Treasury, but to prepare our taxes, defend our taxes, and for the massive cost of the IRS. That's all overhead -- 250 billion-plus dollars. What we ought to do is have a system -- the fair tax system is a good one, or a flatter tax or a simpler tax, because that young couple that pays 1,450 bucks in taxes may pay $450 to their tax preparer. That's a second tax."

Translation: Huckabee advocates a "fair" tax but I can promise you it won't be progressive, so all those people of modest means, who generally don't vote for us, anyway (or do, because we throw a hot button cultural issue at them at election time)
will pay as much as the more affluent. Pander: 4.

Huckabee: "Over 80 percent of the American people know that the tax code is irreparably broken. I would lead one to a fair tax, and that means that the rich people aren't going to be made poor, but maybe the poor people could be made rich."

Translation: Under my system, the poor get rich, and the richer get richer! Everybody wins! It's Christmas every day! Not as complete a pander as Giuliani's response on the debt, but stated more succintly. Pander: 5.

Giuliani: "A flatter tax, a simpler tax that you could file on a one page, as an option, would be a good idea. Reducing the corporate tax, as I suggested. Reducing income tax rates across the board, which would mostly benefit the middle class. That's where the focus should be. But we've got to reduce taxes across the board, and we should give the death penalty to the death tax. It really is a very unfair tax."

Translation: You keep asking me about economics, I'll stay on message and give you the same answer each time. Reduce all taxes, especially for that guy who inherits property worth a few million dollars, which I'm going to continue to call the "death tax" until one of you cowards in the media has the guts to correct me. Good pandering, made all the better when he misleadingly claims "reducing tax rates across the board, which would mostly benefit the middle class." (Well, yeah, because there are a lot more middle class than upper class persons, but a wealthy individual makes out a lot better than the middle class person when the progressive income tax is cut.) Pander: 5.

Mitt Romney won't make this mistake again. A Republican debate, and he says "I don't stay awake at night worrying about the taxes that rich people are paying, to tell you the truth." A pretty radical suggestion for a Republican, it seems to me.
Reflections on the Debate (Johnston, Iowa)- No. 1

In the Repub Presidential debate of 12/12/07 sponsored by the Des Moines Register, the fair, if particularly colorless, moderator, Carolyn Washburn, began by two interrelated questions: The first I've quoted directly, below, and the second asked the candidates what kind of sacrifice they would ask of the Americn people to tackle the debt.

The comptroller general has said the U.S. faces a tsunami of debt that is a great threat to our national security. Do you agree our country's financial situation creates a security risk, and why are why not?
Let's see how each candidate fared on the "pander meter." The scale is from 0 (not far from where non-candidate Al Gore currently is) to 5, sort of the Laffer/Kemp standard, the giants of pander in modern American politics. We'll take these guys in reverse alphabetical order:

Thompson: "That's why I put out a specific Social Security plan that'll save Social Security while saving the government $4 trillion. It's all in entitlements. We've got to spend more for the military, as a matter of fact. But we've got to look at Social Security and Medicare and do some things now that won't hurt anybody badly but will save it for the next generation.The thing about it is that we can do it now without hurting those programs with -- actually strengthening those programs so that our kids and grandkids have -- I don't think we as American people are so selfish that we're going to put this off the table, kick the can down the road and let everybody else solve that problem, you know, when our grandkids get to be working age. That's not America; that's not what makes us strong.
And specifically, as far as Medicare is concerned, we need to tell people that are in Warren Buffet's category we're not going to take care of all your Medicare in the future; we can't afford it.

Translation: Let's consider entitlements and cut Social Security and Medicare because we care more about our children than ourselves. Bad reasoning, bad policy, weak pandering- 0.

Tancredo: "Don't ask the government for womb-to-tomb protection for your life, to build a bubble around you because all of that will cause a humongous amount of money and money that we don't have."

Translation: You're on your own, buddy. Don't expect anyone to help you. Bad policy, weak pandering- 0.

Romney: "The best answer for our economic woes is to make sure we have good jobs for our citizens, good schools for our kids, good health care for everyone, and that we have policies that promote the growth of the nation. We can have a little playing field around the world, get ourselves off of foreign oil, reduce the excessive spending in Washington, and have a bright future for our kids. This, again, is based upon the strength of the American people. If you want to see a strong America, you don't look to Washington; you look to ways to strengthen the American people.... "and the sacrifice we need from the American people, it's this: it's saying let the programs that don't work go."

Translation: We can do it all (good jobs, good schools, health care, bright future). But government ("Washington") is the enemy. And still I'll cut the programs you, the voter, don't like. Contradictory, nonsensical, but excellent politics and pandering- 4.

Paul: "We have to live within our means. If we're going to spend money, we ought to spend it at home, and that is why we have to change this foreign policy. We can't afford it to do what we're doing today because it will destroy our dollar.... (But) I think it's absolutely unnecessary to sacrifice. We want to give people more freedom, more chance to spend their own money. It's unnecessary."

Translation: Let's cut our bases, and there will be no need for personal sacrifice because, as a libertarian, I care about the individual and the community can go to h_ _ _. Pander score: 3.

McCain: not asked to respond

Keyes: " cut off the spigot that funds the political ambition of our leaders by abolishing the income tax and restoring control of 100 percent of their income to the American worker. That means you replace it with a fair tax system that puts the American people in control of their money."

Translation: I don't want the affluent to pay more than the middle class and I would tell you more, but my rant is almost done. Pander score: 3.

Hunter: "We should stop China from cheating on trade, bring back a lot of those high-paying manufacturing jobs to this country that we pushed off-shore. That means bigger paychecks. That means more money going into the Federal Treasury and to Social Security and to Medicare, eliminate those twin deficits, and we'll be on the right track."

Translation: Deal with mainland China. (The entitlement issue really isn't germane to my campaign.) Not really enough about cutting taxes for the red-meat audience. Pander score: 1.

Huckabee: " A lot of the federal budget goes to health care. We need to
do what most American companies are finding works in reducing health care cost. That's moving from the intervention-based health care model to a prevention-based" (sic).

Translation: I used to be fat but slimmed down with a regimen of diet and exercise, and in the process learned the importance of prevention. With this answer, the media will love me- they will actually think I'm in favor of a government role in health care.... and I didn't even say anything about sacrifice! Pander: 2.

Giuliani: "And we have to do it by imposing spending caps on the civilian agencies in governments -- 5 percent, 10 percent, maybe 15 percent. We have to say that we're not going to rehire half of the civilian employees that come up for retirement.... And then we have to reduce taxes. Right now we should reduce the corporate tax. We should reduce it from 35 percent to 25 percent. We should get rid of death tax and a whole group of others, but the first one should be the corporate tax. Restrain the central government, give people more choice, more money to spend, we're going to see our economy booming."

Translation: How many taxes which cut into the power of the wealthy can I advocate cutting in such a short period of time? Sure, it's irresponsible (I won't even mention that cutting government employment will cut government accountability and service to the public), but when has that ever lost votes in a Repub primary? Pander: 5. With this answer, Giuliani may have retired the pander trophy- no, there still is time left in the campaign to convince the Repub voters that he may be a libertine but will do more than anyone else to concentrate power in the hands of the powerful.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Oprah: Apathetic No Longer

Step aside, Iraq; destruction of CIA torture tapes; health care; mortgage crisis. The big news on the campaign trail, Democratic or Republican, is the Big O. Oprah. Goddess.

After drawing 8500 souls to Verizon Wireless Arena (now say that five times fast) in Manchester, New Hampshire, Ms. Winfrey drew over 29,000 people to a football stadium in Columbia, South Carolina for Barack Obama. Reports confirm that she was inspiring. In N.H.: "He understands that he can bring us all together as one United States of America. Not the red states and the blue states and the left and the right, but the United States of America....Apathy is believing that disappointment is normal; what Barack Obama has taught me is that disappointment doesn't have to be normal." In South Carolina: Barack Obama has “a tongue dipped in the unvarnished truth” so “Dr. King dreamed the dream, but we don’t have to dream the dream anymore; we get to vote that dream into office.”

But here is the most interesting thing the queen of daytime television noted: "For the first time in my life I stepped out of my box, stepped out of that TV box and supported a candidate for president."

That's right. When Bill Clinton- he of the balanced budget, Family and Medical Leave Act, Brady Bill, assault weapons ban, effort to reform health care, expansion of breast cancer research and Earned Income Tax Credit- stood for election and reelection, Oprah Winfrey stood on the sidelines. When Al Gore, already a pioneer in environmentalism and poised to build on Clinton's generally progressive record, ran against George W. Bush, Oprah Winfrey stood on the sidelines. And when John Kerry challenged President Bush, already a manifestation of failed right-wing policies, Oprah Winfrey stood around.

Now Ms. Winfrey has decided to endorse. There are several reasons to support Barack Obama. Oprah Winfrey is not one of them.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

After much debate among members of his staff, former Michigan Mitt Romney has finally given the speech many people thought he would never make, and which he fervently hoped he wouldn't have to make. Such is the power of polls that show another candidate, especially a believing Christian, nipping at his heels in Iowa.

Romney's comments drew many raves and some criticism. I think on balance that it was the speech he had to give, taking Mike Huckabee's surge off the front page for at least awhile and giving Romney the opportunity, when asked by the media henceforth about his religious views, to blow them off, referring questioners to his remarks of today. All in all, a good day for a faltering, if leading, campaign.

Flanked by several flags at the George Bush Presidential library and introduced by the former President, Romney appeared "Presidential," though in that venue, Pee Wee Herman, or even Rudolph Giuliani, would appear Presidential. This impression was enhanced with soaring rhetoric, including "as I travel across the country and see our towns and cities, I am always moved by the many houses of worship with their steeples, all pointing to heaven, reminding us of the source of life's blessings." That's a great line- everyone figures he or she is going to heaven and who hasn't been moved by America's finest architecture, churches with their steeples?

Romney effectively, if disingenuously, set up a favorite Republican straw man. He claimed "they seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America - the religion of secularism. They are wrong."

Not surprisingly, the candidate never explained who "they" are, other than to refer to "some." There is a Republican, or conservative, myth that this threat comes from the public sector, as if the federal government has been taken over by some rogue element of radical secularists. But no one has banished religion, or even Christianity, from the public domain or from public life. No law, no statute, no governmental regulation requires Sears, JC Penney, or even your local bakery to turn Christmas- or rather the "holiday"- into an orgy of commercialism. It is the private, not the public, sector, chasing the holy grail of profit, which has turned this season into a faith-less void which Romney, and so many Republicans, decry. But government, ever the rhetorical enemy of the GOP, is a far more convenient target than private interests, source of campaign largesse and object of Republican idolatry.

I could go on criticizing Romney's remarks, such as: the assurance that "any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me," suggesting that he cannot abide a non-believer; the astonishing claim that "freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom," by someone otherwise noting of western Europe, "the churches themselves seem to be withering away"; and of the nation's founders, "for they, when our nation faced its greatest peril, sought the blessings of the Creator," though our nation's founders probably had more in common with today's agnostics than with the Christian right.

But Romney's speechwriters cleverly, and seamlessly, wove a patriotic speech into what was billed as an explanation of how the candidate's faith would inform his Presidency. One mention of the word "Mormon," a fleeting reference to his religious beliefs ("I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind"), but an emphasis on what Americans like to believe are shared values. How effectively ironic: a speech pretending to be about religion, flattering the American people as peculiarly religious and faith-driven, and virtually devoid of religious content.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Reflections on the Debate (St. Petersburg)- No. 10

Does any Repub believe in the pro-life cause? Or is this just political correctness, Republican style?

At their presidential debate of 11/18/07 sponsored by CNN/YouTube, Ron Paul and Fred Thompson fielded the following questions from a woman from Texas named Journey:

In the event that abortion becomes illegal and a woman obtains an abortion anyway, what should she be charged with, and what should her punishment be? What about the doctor who performs the abortion?

Paul responded in part "but I really think it's the person who commits the crime. And I think that is the abortionist." Thompson similarly stated "it goes to the doctor performing the abortion, not the girl, or the young girl, or her parents, whoever it might be."

Unfortunately, host Anderson Cooper did not ask the other candidates if they agreed with the two respondents that an individual initiating, pursuing, and paying for, the murder of another individual (which would be the case if abortion were prohibited) should not in any circumstance be charged with a crime. (I suspect all would concur.) No Repub (or any other politician or public official of whom I'm aware) has questioned the legitimacy of the contract killing he or she would be condoning.... which is a strange position for an operation which used to pretend (and still does, to a lesser extent) that it is the "law and order" party.
Reflections on the Debate (St. Petersburg)- No. 9

A question from Steve Nielson of Denver, Colorado at the CNN/YouTube debate of Republican Presidential aspirants on 11/28/07 elicited a good, and honest, answer from U.S. Representative Tom Tancredo, coincidentally, from Nielson's home state. Tancredo responded to a remark by from Mike Huckabee in which the former Governor seemed to advocate pumping billions more dollars into the space program, and then made a joke about Hillary Clinton (you can guess what it was). The question, and Tancredo's response (which followed Huckabee's), were:

JFK's vision put a man on the moon from a nonexistent space program in about seven years. The new vision for space exploration has provided about 15 years for that same feat.

Meanwhile, Congress is pulling funding for human-to-Mars research altogether.

Is there a candidate amongst you willing to take a pledge on behalf of the Mars Society of sending an American to the surface of Mars by 2020? If not, what is your vision for human space exploration?

Tancredo: The question is a serious one and it deserves a serious answer, and that is this: Look, we've been -- how many times up here, how many questions have dealt with the issue of deficit spending, the debt out of control? And yet, we have somebody saying, "But would you spend more money on going to Mars?"

And the suggestion that we need to spend more money on space exploration. This is it, folks. That's why we have such incredible problems with our debt, because everybody's trying to be everything to all people.

We can't afford some things, and by the way, going to Mars is one of them.

Everybody trying to be all things to all people. Like pursuing an ill-conceived and misguided war, refusing to veto spending bills (unless they're to enhance children's health), and all the while cutting income taxes for millionaires, Halliburton, and other mega-corporations. Anyone know a President like that?
Reflections on the Debate (St. Petersburg)- No. 8

This is a slight, but only slight, deviation from discussion of the 11/28/07 Repub Presidential debate itself, in which John McCain said:

It was American public opinion that forced us to lose that (i.e., Vietnam) conflict.

Now if McCain somehow is nominated, he will recycle that remark to wrap himself in the American flag in an effort to make his Democratic opponent(s) appear unpatriotic. It would serve no purpose to rehash history and demonstrate how inaccurate (or at least misleading) the statement is.

However, the Arizonan's comment does reflect a characteristic lack of faith in the American people, perhaps unsurprising in a man who (justifiably) views himself as an American war hero of singular sacrifice, if not accomplishment. Two years ago, while watching a report on illegal immigration, I saw Senator McCain make a couple of animated responses which the blogsite would report as....

Some time ago, Senator John McCain displayed a contempt for American workers similar to that displayed by Cohen & Grigsby when he told an audience of union workers that his amnesty for illegal aliens was necessary because the country needs illegal immigrants to do the jobs Americans won’t.

“Pay us a decent wage,” someone shouted.

“You can’t do it, my friends” Sen. McCain responded, and he offered $50 per hour to anyone in the crowd who would go to Arizona and pick lettuce.

Such a man believes the American people are lazy (or at least not as industrious as a United States Senator) and cowardly enough not to see a war through to its end. This is not a good perspective to take into a general election and if the Democratic nominee pursues it, might elicit that famous, and damaging, McCain temper.
Reflections on the Debate (St. Petersburg)- No. 7

The following question, and John McCain's response, indicate both the base of support (such as it is) for the Arizona Senator's bid for the Republican nomination, and his periodic foray into pandering. From the 11/18/07 CNN/YouTube debate:

Hello. My name is Buzz Brockway from Lawrenceville, Georgia. All the talk about the war in Iraq centers around how quickly we can get out. I think that's the wrong question. We need to make a permanent or long-term military commitment to the region.

By staying in Iraq, we provide long-term stability to the region, we provide support for our allies, and we act as a deterrent to the trouble-makers in the region. Which presidential candidate will make a permanent of long-term military commitment to the people of Iraq?

And John McCain's effective, though disingenuous, response:

Well, let me remind you, Congressman, we never lost a battle in Vietnam. It was American public opinion that forced us to lose that conflict.


I think it's important for all Americans to understand the fundamental difference. After we left Vietnam, they didn't want to follow us home. They wanted to build their own workers' paradise. If you read Zarqawi, if you read bin Laden, if you read Zawahiri, read what they say. They want to follow us home. They want Iraq to be a base for Al Qaeda to launch attacks against the United States. Their ultimate destination is not Iraq.

Their ultimate destination is New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Phoenix, Arizona. This is a transcendent challenge of our time.

(Audience booing)

McCain: I believe that we can meet it and we will defeat it.

The Senator's response is essentially "we're fighting them there, so we don't have to fight them here" (in New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Phoenix, Arizona; I suppose he forgot Manchester, New Hampshire and Orlando.) And note the twisted logic: it's not what happened in Vietnam ("after we left Vietnam, they didn't want to follow us home"); therefore, it is what will happen in Iraq. Curious, too, that McCain believes our enemies ("read what they say") rather than Western intelligence.

But more appalling is McCain's resort to waiving the "bloody shirt." Vietnam wasn't the wrong war, or fought ineffectively, or a sacrifice of American blood and treasure that we couldn't sustain as a democracy- oh, no, it was those liberals, American public opinion, "that forced us to lose that conflict." It's clearly a way, if Persian Gulf War II ends badly, not to acknowledge mistaken judgement but instead to blame it on the liberal Democrats, who opposed, or at least were skeptical, about the war.

But on a lighter note. What of the booing after McCain referred to "the transcendent challenge of our time?" Did the Repub audience fail to understand McCain? Did it forget when it was supposed to cheer, and boo? Did the audience lose sight of the cue cards?
Reflections on the Debate (St. Petersburg)- No. 6

It was truly an "ouch" moment. Asked about waterboarding and torture at the Repub Presidential debate on November 18, 2007, Mitt Romney and John McCain debated each other. Rather, they fought each other, and after two rounds, Romney was on the canvas. If you didn't see the debate, you owe it to yourself to read the entire exchange on the subject to get at least some idea of the humiliation Romney brought on himself by stubbornly refusing to condemn waterboarding.

Hello, gentlemen. I'm Andrew, and I'm a college student from Seattle, Washington.

Recently, Senator McCain has come out strongly against using waterboarding as an instrument of interrogation.

My question for the rest of you is, considering that Mr. McCain is the only one with any firsthand knowledge on the subject, how can those of you sharing the stage with him disagree with his position?

Cooper: Governor Romney?

Romney: Well, he certainly is an expert and I certainly would want to get his counsel on a matter of this nature, but I do not believe that as a presidential candidate, it is wise for us to describe precisely what techniques we will use in interrogating people.

I oppose torture. I would not be in favor of torture in any way, shape or form.

Cooper: Is waterboarding torture?

Romney: And as I just said, as a presidential candidate, I don't think it's wise for us to describe specifically which measures we would and would not use.

And that is something which I would want to receive the counsel not only of Senator McCain, but of a lot of other people.

And there are people who, for many, many years get the information we need to make sure that we protect our country.

And, by the way, I want to make sure these folks are kept at Guantanamo. I don't want the people that are carrying out attacks on this country to be brought into our jail system and be given legal representation in this country. I want to make sure that what happened ...


... to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed happens to other people who are terrorists. He was captured. He was the so-called mastermind of the 9/11 tragedy. And he turned to his captors and he said, "I'll see you in New York with my lawyers." I presume ACLU lawyers.


Well, that's not what happened. He went to Guantanamo and he met G.I.s and CIA interrogators. And that's just exactly how it ought to be.


Cooper: Senator McCain?


(Unknown): There were reports Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded.

McCain: Well, governor, I'm astonished that you haven't found out what waterboarding is.

Romney: I know what waterboarding is, Senator.

McCain: Then I am astonished that you would think such a -- such a torture would be inflicted on anyone in our -- who we are held captive and anyone could believe that that's not torture. It's in violation of the Geneva Convention. It's in violation of existing law...


And, governor, let me tell you, if we're going to get the high ground in this world and we're going to be the America that we have cherished and loved for more than 200 years. We're not going to torture people.

We're not going to do what Pol Pot did. We're not going to do what's being done to Burmese monks as we speak. I suggest that you talk to retired military officers and active duty military officers like Colin Powell and others, and how in the world anybody could think that that kind of thing could be inflicted by Americans on people who are held in our custody is absolutely beyond me.

Cooper: Governor Romney, 30 seconds to respond.


Romney: Senator McCain, I appreciate your strong response, and you have the credentials upon which to make that response. I did not say and I do not say that I'm in favor of torture.

I am not. I'm not going to specify the specific means of what is and what is not torture so that the people that we capture will know what things we're able to do and what things we're not able to do. And I get that advice from Cofer Black, who is a person who was responsible for counterterrorism in the CIA for some 35 years.

I get that advice by talking to former generals in our military...

Cooper: Time.

Romney: ... and I don't believe it's appropriate for me, as a presidential candidate, to lay out all the issues one by one...

Cooper: Time.

Romney: ... get questioned one by one: Is this torture, is that torture?

Cooper: Senator McCain...

Romney: And so, that's something which I'm going to take your and other people's counsel on.

Cooper: Senator McCain, 30 seconds to respond.

McCain: Well, then you would have to advocate that we withdraw from the Geneva Conventions, which were for the treatment of people who were held prisoners, whether they be illegal combatants or regular prisoners of war. Because it's clear the definition of torture. It's in violation of laws we have passed.

And again, I would hope that we would understand, my friends, that life is not "24" and Jack Bauer.

Life is interrogation techniques which are humane and yet effective. And I just came back from visiting a prison in Iraq. The Army general there said that techniques under the Army Field Manual are working and working effectively, and he didn't think they need to do anything else.

My friends, this is what America is all about. This is a defining issue and, clearly, we should be able, if we want to be commander in chief of the U.S. Armed Forces, to take a definite and positive position on, and that is, we will never allow torture to take place in the United States of America.


>Not only dressed down, but by someone who in his answer he referred to as "an expert" whose "counsel" he would seek, and of whom he says "I appreciate your strong response, and you have the credentials upon which to make that response." If Romney hopes to ameliorate McCain's obvious antipathy toward him, it appears that treating the Arizona Senator with extreme respect and ascribing virtue to him may not be the way to go.
Reflections on the Debate (St. Petersburg)- No. 5

And if a Southern Baptist Convention minister (Mike Huckabee) knew how to answer a question about Scripture at the Repub Presidential Debate on 11/18/07, clearly Mitt Romney and Rudolph Giuliani did not. The question:

I am Joseph. I am from Dallas, Texas, and how you answer this question will tell us everything we need to know about you. Do you believe every word of this book? Specifically, this book that I am holding in my hand, do you believe this book?

Giuliani's response:

OK. The reality is, I believe it, but I don't believe it's necessarily literally true in every single- I think there are parts of the Bible that are interpretive. I think there are parts of the Bible that are allegorical. I think there are parts of the Bible that are meant to be interpreted in a modern context.

So, yes, I believe it. I think it's the great book ever written. I read it frequently. I read it very frequently when I've gone through the bigger crises in my life, and I find great wisdom in it, and it does define to a very large extent my faith. But I don't believe every single thing in the literal sense of Jonah being in the belly of the whale, or, you know, there are some things in it that I think were put there as allegorical

Perhaps it's unfair to point it out, but Giuliani seemed uncomfortable when responding to this question- perhaps because few people are going to believe that he "read(s) it very frequently." And it's unnecessary to say "I don't believe it's necessarily literally true" when he is (wisely) noting that parts are allegorical- though I don't believe the ardent Christian voter believes the story about Jonah and the whale is the clearest example of allegory.

Still, Giuliani's answer was superior to Romney's response:

I believe the Bible is the word of God, absolutely. And I try...


... I try to live by it as well as I can, but I miss in a lot of ways. But it's a guide for my life and for hundreds of millions, billions of people around the world. I believe in the Bible.

Cooper: Does that mean you believe every word?

Romney: You know -- yes, I believe it's the word of God, the Bible is the word of God.

The Bible is the word of God. I mean, I might interpret the word differently than you interpret the word, but I read the Bible and I believe the Bible is the word of God. I don't disagree with the Bible. I try to live by it.
If Giuliani's answer can be summarized as "it's great, though not always to be taken literally," Romney allowed himself to be cornered into having to vouch for the literal nature of the Bible. Asked "does that mean you believe every word, he stated- after obvious hesitation and uncertainty- for the 2nd and 3rd times "the Bible is the word of God." Then he clumsily failed to avoid saying that he believes every word, which both Huckabee and Giuliani avoided claiming. The key for the office-seeker, of course, is to state that he or she is a person "of faith," believes deeply in a loving God, and neglect stating overtly whether the Bible is to be taken literally. If Huckabee's response was brilliant, and Giuliani's barely adequate, Romney's was abysmal.
Reflections on the Debate (St. Petersburg)- No. 4

In what appeared to be a unanimous decision, former Governor Mike Huckabee of Hope, Arkansas was declared the "winner" of the Repub Presidential debate presented by CNN/YouTube on November 18, 2007. In making this judgement, analysts most often pointed to Huckabee's response to this question:

I am Joseph. I am from Dallas, Texas, and how you answer this question will tell us everything we need to know about you. Do you believe every word of this book? Specifically, this book that I am holding in my hand, do you believe this book?

Huckabee's response was the most brilliant I've heard to any question in any of either the Repub or Democratic Presidential debates this season:

Sure. I believe the Bible is exactly what it is. It's the word of revelation to us from God himself.


And the fact is that when people ask do we believe all of it, you either believe it or you don't believe it. But in the greater sense, I think what the question tried to make us feel like was that, well, if you believe the part that says "Go and pluck out your eye," well, none of us believe that we ought to go pluck out our eye. That obviously is allegorical.

But the Bible has some messages that nobody really can confuse and really not left up to interpretation. "Love your neighbor as yourself."

And as much as you've done it to the least of these brethren, you've done it unto me. Until we get those simple, real easy things right, I'm not sure we ought to spend a whole lot of time fighting over the other parts that are a little bit complicated.

And as the only person here on the stage with a theology degree, there are parts of it I don't fully comprehend and understand, because the Bible is a revelation of an infinite god, and no finite person is ever going to fully understand it. If they do, their god is too small.

It was, strategically at least, so extraordinary that I need to break it down point-by-point:

1) Sure, I believe the Bible is exactly what it is. (This can't offend anyone- everything is exactly what it is- yet, it is comes off as classic Republican certitude.)
2) It's the word of revelation to us from God himself. (Believers are confident, perhaps above all, that the Bible is the revealed word of God.... and this generally doesn't offend non-believers, who are more concerned that the Bible is not taken to be the literal word of God.)
3) The part that says "Go and pluck out your eye, well, none of us believe that we ought to go pluck out our eye. That obviously is allegorical. (In implying that the Bible is not always to be interpreted literally, Huckabee has avoided being stigmatized, as have some skeptics of Darwinian evolution, as an air-headed rube. Still, believers can't be offended- it suggests that God has used an effective literary device to get his message across.)
4) But the Bible has some messages that nobody really can confuse and really not left up to interpretation. "Love your neighbor as yourself." (a.Here he takes a stand in favor of Scriptures- nobody really can confuse and really not left up to interpretation- and again expresses Repub certitude. b.And non-believers? It's perhaps the favorite line from Scripture of non-believers- as in, you guys ought to love me, too, even though I don't agree with you- and love the poor, the sickly, and minorities while you're at it.)
5) And as much as we've done it to the least of these brethren, you've done it unto me. (See 4b.)
6) Until we get those simple, real easy things right, I'm not sure we ought to spend a whole lot of time fighting over the other parts that are a little bit complicated. (To the Christian right: This is simple and easy- not like all the detailed, complex stuff you hear out of those pointy-headed intellectuals and scientists. To non-believers: "Let's not spend a whole lot of time fighting"- I'm not going to knock you over the head with this God-stuff, and you're free to believe what you want.)
7) And as the only person here on the stage with a theology degree.... (I know what I'm talking about- the rest of you guys don't. And by the way, don't think that just because I'm a Christian that I'm not educated.)
8) There are parts of it I don't fully comprehend and understand. (But I'm humble- in the manner of Jesus Christ, my Lord.)
9) No finite person is ever going to fully understand it. If they do, their god is too small. (And our God, the Judaeo-Christian god, is not small- as for the god of the Muslims, well....)

Commentators have remarked that Huckabee, as a Baptist (specifically, Southern Baptist Convention) minister, should have scored big with this question. But it was an answer of substance as well as, politically, far more than effective than a potential primary (or caucus) voter could have expected from anyone.
Reflections on the Debate (St. Petersburg)- No. 3

As indicates, former Senator/lobbyist/actor Fred Thompson is well behind Rudolph Giuliani nationally among Repub voters and is not in first place in any state polled. Still, there must have been a reason, and was, that before entering the race, he was believed to be a formidable contender. If a couple of responses from the 11/18/07 CNN/YouTube Presidential debate are an indication, Thompson still is a threat. Here is a question from apparent gun enthusiast Eric Bentson of Phoenix, Arizona:

Any of you all want to tell us about your gun collection, roughly how many you own, what your favorite make, model and caliber is, if any of them require a tax stamp?

Take a look at Thompson's response, remembering that this is a Republican debate in front of (presumably conservative) Republican heavy hitters, by a candidate appealing to the activist, Repub primary voter:

I own a couple of guns, but I'm not going to tell you what they are or where they are.

Laughter followed, but it was not the laughter of derision, but of support. Exactly what a Repub interested in the issue of guns/gun control himself (or herself) would have liked to have replied to such a query (Think tough guy with a touch of paranoia about government agents.)

Then, CNN presented:

Nick Anderson as Dick Cheney cartoon character: Yes. Will you grant your vice president as much power and influence as I've had?

And remember, before you answer, I'm watching you.

And Thompson's (initial) response:

First of all, I'm greatly relieved. For a second there, I thought that was me.

Greeted by inevitable laughter, it was a humurous, self-deprecating response. Only problem- it almost was true. Arguably, Fred Thompson never has looked as bad as he has during this campaign. Previously, he gave the appearance of being an old and wise grandfather. Now he just looks old.
Reflections on the Debate (St. Petersburg)- No. 3

Grover Norquist, head of the Americans for the Truly Wealthy, AKA Americans for Tax Reform, asked this question at the 11/28/07 Repub Presidential debate:

President Bush made a commitment when he ran for president in 2000 an 2004 that he would oppose and veto any tax increase that Congress sent him. My question to each of the candidates is: Would you promise to the people watching this right now, that you will oppose and veto any efforts to raise taxes as long as you're president?

In full pander mode, Tancredo, Huckabee, Romney, and Giuliani all said they would. Thompson, McCain, Paul (the libertarian!) refused to take this foolish pledge. Even the arch right-winger Duncan Hunter refused. Imagine this: no matter the economic health of the country; no matter whether we are involved in a foreign war; no matter the possibility of a natural disaster or terrorist attack- four Repub contenders, three of whom are considered serious contenders by the media, have pledged not to raise taxes for (at least) four years. Completely, thoroughly, irresponsible.
Reflections on the Debate (St. Petersburg)- No. 1

One of the best questions at the CNN/YouTube Repub Presidential debate on November 28, 2007 came from 18-year old college student Sarah Ledarach, who asked:

Often, I've heard both politicians and voters express their concern with providing a better future for their children. A concern of my generation is the trillions of dollars of national debt and what kind of responsibility we will have for that in the future.

My question for you all is, if elected, what measures will you take to tackle the national debt and control spending?

Interesting responses were elicited. John McCain said that he opposed expansion of the SCHIP because it would have been funded by an increase in tobacco taxes, though his legendary courage did not inspire him to suggest that he would have supported childrens' health if it were paid through general revenues which, I suppose, would be dangerous in Repub primaries.

Mitt Romney advocated a cap on non-military discretionary spending, presumably to shield the Pentagon from the sacrifice other Americans would have to make.
And Rudolph Giuliani actually proposed "not to rehire half of the civilian employees that will retire in the next 10 years. That is 42 percent of the federal workforce that will retire in the next 10 years. Don't rehire half of them."

A responsive government- one which will be gutted by a 21% reduction in its workforce. More Americans thrown out of work- unless they are fortunate enough to be employed by the military which will not be asked to sacrifice along with other Americans.

But Giuliani argues "every business has done it." Does that include Halliburton? Other businessess with military contracts? Not likely. But that's evidently the Republican formula. Shield the Pentagon from scrutiny. Everyone else is fair game.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Wisdom of a Ten Year Old

The Repub Party has just cut its first general election commercial, in the event that Barack Obama is nominated. Or at least knows what it will look like. On November 19, 2007 the Illinois Senator exclaimed "probably the strongest experience I have in foreign relations is the fact I spent four years overseas when I was a child in Southeast Asia."

Hillary Clinton promptly, and rightly, jumped on the comment which suggested that the foreign policy judgement of a ten-year-old is sufficient in a President in a "post 9/11 world," as the ad may term it. The following day, the Illinois Senator(whose father was Kenyan and who lived in Indonesia from the ages of 6 to 10) explained his remark, but the criticism by the New York Senator will pale in comparison to the assault the Repub Party would launch next autumn. And the elitism implied in the idea that living, or even traveling, abroad, would provide ample fodder for a Repub Party that delights in painting the opposition as unpatriotic or un-American.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Right on Pakistan

A little belated credit is due Barack Obama. I wrote at the time that I thought the Illinois Senator was correct, but the passage of (a few months) time has made him seem almost prescient. In a Democratic Presidential debate a few months ago, a- the- point of controversy was the effort of Obama to defend a statement he had made on August 1, 2007. From Reuters on that date:

Obama said if elected in November 2008 he would be willing to attack inside Pakistan with or without approval from the Pakistani government, a move that would likely cause anxiety in the already troubled region.

"If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will," Obama said.

The reaction? As Fox News reported, from Chris Dodd, opposition: "Frankly, I am not sure what Barack is calling for in his speech this morning. But it is dangerous and irresponsible to leave even the impression the United States would needlessly and publicly provoke a nuclear power." From Bill Richardson, opposition: "My international experience tells me that we should address this problem with tough diplomacy with General Musharraf first, leaving the military as a last resort. It is important to reach out to moderate Muslim states and allies to ensure we do not unnecessarily inflame the Muslim world," said New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, another 2008 Democratic presidential candidate.

ABC News reported two other candidates, both Senators, criticized Obama's comments: "I am concerned about talking about it," she (Clinton) said. "I think everyone agrees that our goal should be to capture or kill bin Laden and his lieutenants but how we do it should not be telegraphed and discussed for obvious reasons." On NPR's "Diane Rehm Show," Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called Obama "naïve" and implied he wasn't experienced enough for the presidency. "Having talking points on foreign policy doesn't get you there," Biden said of Obama. (Note: Biden said also that he had recently wrotten a law conditioning aid to Pakistan on cooperation with the U.S.A. on fighting terrorists but that he first notified President Musharraf and Secretary of State Rice of his intent.)

And qualified support from former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, (who) said he would not hesitate to use force against extremists but said, "I believe we must first use maximum diplomatic and economic pressure on states like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to take all necessary actions to stop al Qaeda."

And since then: General Musharaff attempts to fire the chief justice of Pakistan's Supreme Court, spurring political turmoil; Benazhir Bhutto returns to the adulation of multitudes of Pakistanis and is put under house arrest; Musharraf imposes military rule.

So with the return from exile of Bhutto and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, it appears unnecessary or unwise for the Bush Administration to have placed its on the head of state and military strongman Musharraf.

So if Obama was right, with (qualified) support from that "peacenik" Edwards, and Biden seems to know something about the region, what about the guys in power: "Our approach to Pakistan is one that not only respects the sovereignty of Pakistan as a sovereign government, but is also designed to work in a way where we are working in cooperation with the local government," then-White House spokesman Tony Snow said. Let me translate: "We think Musharraf is just fine. But we don't want to criticize a Democratic candidate too much, lest we dilute our message that only we will keep you safe in a post-9/11 world because the Mommy Party wants to coddle terrorists- and, of course, not support the troops."

Monday, November 26, 2007

Conservative, Not Neo-Conservative

One of the most significant urban myths in American public affairs is that of the control of foreign policy, specifically in regard to Iraq, by neoconservatives. Besides being largely untrue (more on this at a later date), this theory has a potentially ugly implication. Notwithstanding his own religious background, Joshua Micah Marshall fell victim to this line of self-deception today, in the usually reliable TalkingPointsMemo. At the end of a blog exploring the issue of intelligence quotients, Marshall writes:

And as long as it's just free inquiry we're interested in, can we move ahead with that study into the Jewish propensity to dominate host nations and guile them into hopeless wars for their own enrichment? Or at least suss out the implications if the theory turns out to be true?

If I misundersand Marshall's meaning, I apologize. But it seems to me that to Marshall, a critic of Israel, the Iraq war, and neoconservatives, 1)host nations= United States of America; 2)hopeless wars= Gulf War II; 3)their own enrichment= what?

Let's go over the data: 1)Colin Powell, then Secretary of State: Episcopalian; 2)Condoleeza Rice, then National Security Advisor, now Secretary of State: Presbyterian Church, USA; 3)Dick Cheney, Vice President: United Methodist Church; 4) George W. Bush, President: United Methodist Church. (I leave out Donald Rumsfeld, who has told Chris Matthews that President Bush never asked him if he would support an invasion of Iraq).

The four officials most responsible for our invasion of Iraq, and none of them Jewish. I'm not accusing Joshua Micah Marshall or others of like mind of anti-Semitism. It's just that anti-Zionist bias has a "propensity" to cloud the "host's" judgement.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Republican Media- No. 11

Dick Cheney should not be Vice-President. Oh, I don't mean because of arguably being the mastermind behind Gulf War II, holding meetings of the energy task force in private with the names of the (energy industry) participants kept secret, or conspiring with his chief of staff to reveal the name of a covert CIA agent and thus endanger her life, the life of other CIA agents, and the investigation of weapons of mass destruction. The electors of the state of Texas in 2000 unconstitutionally cast their ballots for Cheney as Vice-President and George W. Bush as President.

Presidential electors cast their votes not for a ticket, but separately for President and Vice-President. The 12th Amendment of the United States Constitution reads in part "the Electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves." Each elector in Texas cast his/her Presidential vote for Bush and Veep vote for Cheney who, in a clear effort at subterfuge, changed his voter registration in June, 2000, shortly before being named Bush's running mate, from Texas to his old state of Wyoming.

A couple of problems: one of the requirements for voter registration in Wyoming is "be(ing) an actual and physically bona fide resident of Wyoming living in the state for one year before becoming a resident." According to as of 6/02, the Vice-President's driver's license (and his wife's) listed his address as 500 N. Akerd Street in Dallas, where he worked at Halliburton. He sold his mansion in the Dallas suburb of Highland Park on November 30, 2002 to a major Repub donor, who herself owns a mansion in Highland Park. And according to, Cheney had claimed his homestead tax exemption on the home in Highland Park, thereby acknowledging it as his main home.

Residence in Texas. Driver's license in Texas. Voter's registration (apparently illegally) in Wyoming. But wait- the Constitution does not say voter but inhabitant. (At least two appeals contesting the elevation of Cheney to Vice-President were filed but obviously to no avail.) Therefore, had the U.S. Constituion not been ignored (apparently a harbinger of things to come), either Bush or Cheney would not have been elected.

It's tempting to say a Bush-Lieberman Administration would have been no different. However, it's likely that the coupling of Bush and a toady would have been dramatically different than having a Vice-President of extraordinary influence these seven years. And it might have been different had the media in 2000, witnessing the nomination as Vice-President of the man who led the search for a Vice-Presidential nominee, actually noted that the two men heading the ticket lived in the same state. But that would have been too much to ask of a media intimidated by the Grand Old Party.
Leaving Nothing To Chance

The New York Times reported on November 22, 2007 of the curious case of Paul Singer, 55-year old founder of the hedge fund Elliott Associates, who was one of the earliest fund-raisers for Presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani, and then a policy adviser to Rudolph. In 1996, according to The Times, "he paid $11.4 million for $20million worth of discounted, government-backed Peruvian bank debt" and, after court challenges, ended up with $58 million. Bono, the International Monetary Fund (which termed Elliott a "vulture company"), and others have criticized similar transactions for strong-arming debt-strapped nations to divert money from social and economic needs to repay investors. Not surprisingly, Elliott considers himself a conservative libertarian and has contributed to various conservative causes including the Club for Growth (which has attacked former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee for raising taxes, aiding education, and other acts considered obscene by the economic right).

And $175,000 to the corporation Take Initiative America- California, which in turn donated the money to Californians for Equal Representation.

"Californians for Equal Representation"- sounds so benign. In fact, it is the group bankrolling the Repub initiative to place on the California ballot a referendum changing the apportionment of that state's 55 electoral votes from winner-take-all to the winner of the vote in the particular congressional district. In any Presidential election not a GOP landslide (in which case the issue is moot), California would go Democratic, but the Times estimates that a revised system could bring the Repub nominee as many as 20 electoral votes. (I have no idea what methodology the paper used; I suspect significantly more could be won by the GOP while losing the overall state vote.)

And the effort appears rather transparent when, as TalkingPointsMemo indicates, four other individuals (Anne Dunsmorth, Charles "Chep" Hurth III, Jonathan Wilcox, James Lacy) currently or formerly, directly or indirectly, involved with the Rudolph campaign are enmeshed in this Repub-led effort to steal the 2008 election.

Does this sound vaguely familiar? No doubt more Californians in November, 2004 went to the polls intending to vote for Gore-Lieberman than for Bush-Cheney. And it's likely that George W. Bush, who lost the popular vote nationwide to Al Gore, actually received fewer votes in Floria than the Vice-President. quotes The Washington Post as commenting Gore "'did at one point call on Bush to join him in asking for a statewide recount' and accepting the results without further legal challenge, but that Bush rejected the proposal as 'a public relations gesture.'" Most likely, if, as the Gore campaign advocated, there had been a recount in the four contested counties, Bush would have won; a recount of only the "undervotes", Bush would have won; a recount of the entire state, Gore would have won.

In 2004, as Robert Kennedy Jr. noted in here, a fair election in Ohio would have awarded that state's electoral votes, and hence the election, to Senator John Kerry.

So what should a host of the next Democratic debate, eager to ask a question which would yield revealing and significant answers (and yet as usual, leaning over backwards so as not to seem in any way, to any degree, pro-Democratic) ask the candidates? How about: Many Democrats believe that the Presidential elections of 2000 and 2004 were stolen, respectively, in Florida and Ohio. Now there is a campaign to change the law in California, a Democratic state, to award its presidential electors on a proportional basis, which could deal a death blow to the Democratic nominee. What steps would you take on election day to ensure an election whose outcome no Democrat would fail to recognize as legitimate?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Six police officers shot in the last seven weeks in Philadelphia. 339 homicides this year through October in that city. A popular governor surrounded by a dozen uniformed police officers.

That was the setting as (Democratic) governor Edward G. Rendell testified before the 29-member Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee yesterday in favor of gun control. However, the committee rejected a bill which would have limited most handgun purchases to one a month, and legislation which would have empowered local governments to enact gun control laws. A bill requiring owners to report lost or stolen guns promptly was tabled.

That's right. Lawmakers in Pennsylvania are not convinced that an owner of a firearm need inform police if his or her weapon is stolen. The committee did vote to create a mandatory minimum prison sentence of twenty years for anyone who fires a weapon at a police officer. Legislators took a forthright stand in favor of punishment of crime (and only if directed against a cop) and against prevention of crime.

Confronted in the Capitol in Harrisburg by a gun control advocate, the chief Pennsylvania lobbyist for the National Rifle Association argued for the "right" to purchase an unlimited number of guns: "Would you say it's reasonable for your right to public assembly to be restricted?"

Oh, yeah. A bunch of guys I know are going to march into our local police station to demand gun control or bicycle patrols downtown. Or into the county courthouse to demand an end to capital punishment or establishment of mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession. Or into church services on Sunday to demand reinstatement of public school prayer, taxation of of religious institutions or an end to grants to faith-based organizations. So unreasonable to restrict the right to public assembly. Freedom is license, of course. Just ask the NRA.
The Republican Media- No. 10

There is a reason that I refer to the mainstream media as "The Republican Media" and not, incidentally, as "the conservative media.", a very good, well known liberal blog, posted yesterday an item entitled "Murdered Gay Men's Parents Submit Question for CNN/YouTube GOP Debate" with the accompanying video. The following question was submitted by the victim's parents:

We're Lynn and Pat Mulder of Auburndale, Florida. Our son Ryan was murdered in March because he was gay. We would like to ask the presidential candidates how will they work to promote the value of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender families.

This is not a conservative posting- having the parents of a murdered child ask a question about family values can only elicit sympathy for the family and, not as reliably, the cause. One must wonder, however, why a question preceding a Repub debate would be publicized by a (liberal) blog or be disseminated by the network co-hosting the outing. (As a student, I loved those tests, far too infrequent, in which the questions were given to us before the examination.) I can only imagine the responses, written in advance for the candidates by their campaigns, which will be produced. The necessary elements would include, but not be limited to: compassion for the parents; outrage over crime, especially of a violent nature, and support for all victims of crime; plea for tolerance of those whom we be different than we are; a reminder that prejudice is not something the candidate, or God, supports. (I think the latter point is something which Mike Huckabee, an ordained minister, can more credibly address and is a little more likely to do so.)

The responses will differ in some manner from Repub to Repub, but we do know that with the question given in advance, each answer will be effective and uncontroversial. And one more thing: have the campaigns been informed of every question?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Reflections on the Debate (Las Vegas)- No. 6

At the Democratic Presidential debate on 11/15/07, Senator Clinton claimed "well, Wolf, I've just been personally attacked again." This was in response to this lengthy statement of former Senator Edwards:

Well, can I say first, nobody on this stage is perfect, and that certainly includes me. (Cross talk.) And I don't claim perfection, far from it.

What I would say is that the issue is whether we can have a president that can restore trust for the American people in the president of the United States. (Applause.) Because I think this president has destroyed that trust, and I think there are fair questions to be asked of all of us, including Senator Clinton.

Senator Clinton says she will end the war. She also says she will continue to keep combat troops in Iraq and continue combat missions in Iraq. She says she will turn up the heat on George Bush and the Republicans. But when the crucial vote came on stopping Bush, Cheney and the neocons on Iran, she voted with Bush and Cheney. (Applause)

On the issue of Social Security, she said, standing beside me on the stage, that she would not do anything about the cap on Social Security taxes. And she has said privately to people, because it's been reported in the press, that, in fact, she would consider raising that cap. And the most important issue is, she says she will bring change to Washington while she continues to defend a system that does not work, that is broken, that is rigged and is corrupt, corrupted against the interest of most Americans and corrupted -- (cheers, applause)

Let's see. These points were made: 1)None of us is perfect; 2)Each of us can be questioned as to whether we will restore the trust of the American people; 3)Clinton has voted with the Administration on Iran; 4)Clinton has advocated two contradictory things about Social Security taxes; 5)Clinton defends a system that is rigged, "corrupted against the interest of most Americans." These charges are substantive, not personal.

As a Democrat who would like to see the Presidency taken back from the Repubs next year, I hope Mrs. Clinton cried "foul" only for political advantage. If she really believed this was a "personal attack," she is hardly ready to face the attacks that will in fact be personal, next autumn, assuming she is nominated.
Reflections on the Debate (Las Vegas)- No.5

At the Democratic Presidential debate this week sponsored by CNN, Hillary Clinton, arguably, asserted that Barack Obama's health care plan would leave millions of Americans uninsured. She cleverly stated "his plan would leave 15 million Americans out. That's about the population of Nevada, Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire."

For those who are interested (and for those who aren't), here is the population of these earliest of primary/caucus states as of July, 2005, according to a)Iowa, 2,966,334; b)Nevada, 2,414,807; c)New Hampshire, 1,309,94; d)South Carolina, 4,255,083. The total as of 7/05: 10,946,164. Ironically (even considering population growth in the latter three states since then), that is fewer than fifteen million. Still, it effectively drove Clinton's (debatable) point home to the Nevada audience, as well as primary goers/caucus attendees in the other states.

Racehorse Genes

Credit the discovery to Michael D'Antonio.  He conducted a series of interviews with Donald J. Trump in 2014, of whom Donald Trump Jr....