Saturday, June 30, 2007

Debate at Howard University

Some musings about the substance of the Democratic debate (one of the "All-American Presidential Forums" sponsored by PBS) at Howard University on Thursday evening, 6/28/07:

1) It doesn't seem like asking too much for a Democratic candidate to say directly that he/she is opposed to outsourcing, in response to a question specifically about the topic. Yet, Kucinich (who emphasized unfair trade), Biden, Clinton, and Gravel (who seemed unopposed to the practice) didn't find it within themselves to state unequivocally that it is harmful.

2) Asked about income inequality, Edwards and Biden- only- stated definitively that the portion of the Bush tax cuts decreasing income taxes on the wealthy should be ended now. The reticence of the frontrunners, Clinton and Obama, may not have been accidental.

3) Queried about crime and punishment, we heard all the usual explanations for the disproportionately high rate of incarceration among blacks: greater penalties for possession of crack cocaine than powdered cocaine; racial injustice in the criminal justice system; mandatory minimums; incarceration for non-violent offenses; emphasis on incarceration rather than rehabilitation; an incompetent Attorney General. How about this? The absence of a Public Defender system in many states. In Texas, for instance, a private attorney (at public expense) is selected for indigent defendants by an elected judge- who often repays (or punishes) attorneys with assignments in response to their need for campaign funds or votes. Poor defendants, disproportionately minority, often end up with disinterested, overworked, and/or incompetent counsel. And Texas is notorious for its proclivity to impose the death penalty.

4) Over at TPM Cafe, Eric Kleefeld and T.W. Farnum lament the lengthy (and, I found, self-serving) introduction, allowing the audience to applaud (always a mistake), and the limit imposed upon each candidate for answering a question in the second half of the debate. They note also Chris Dodd's remark "I was going to say, Tavis, I'll take global warming for $600" and Tavis Smiley's response "and I was going to say, if you were Paris Hilton, I'd give you an hour. But you're not." Could there be anything more superficial than Smiley's rejoinder? Perhaps Hillary Clinton's smiling response, "That was good. That was good, Tavis."

5) Senator Clinton stated "Let me just put this in perspective. If HIV/AIDS were the leading cause of death of white women between the ages of 25 and 34, there would be an outraged outcry in this country."
Let me put this into perspective, Senator Clinton. Acording to the Foundation for AIDS Research Public Policy, Congress in fiscal 2005 appropriated $2.9 billion, a 2.1% increase over fiscal year 2004, for AIDS research. AVERT.org (apparently an international AIDS charity), cites 17,011 deaths in the U.S.A. from AIDS in 2005. That computes to an average of $170,477.92 per AIDS death. According to FORBES.com, the comparable figures for various diseases are: breast cancer, $20,650; Alzheimer's disease, $10,214; lung cancer, $1,905; pancreatic cancer, $1,724; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, $458.
Pandering is one thing, Senator Clinton. Deliberate, exorbitant distortion of the truth is something I'd rather ascribe to politicians (usually Republican) dedicated to the wealth and power of corporate interests. But I guess I have.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Obama: I'm Not Ready

First, as reported by ABC News, in February, 2007 it was stating that in Iraq, "we have seen over 3,000 lives of the bravest young Americans wasted." Senator Obama apologized for that one, although Persian Gulf War II has cost now over 3500 American lives, increased terrorism, damaged our standing abroad, and left us woefully unprepared to combat national security threats elsewhere (or there) in the world. Sure, it was a classic politician's apology- "I would absolutely apologize if any (military families) felt that in some ways it had diminished the enormous courage and sacrifice that they'd shown." (Translation: I'm not apologizing just now, but if you're somehow- "in some ways"- offended, then I will apologize.) But it nevertheless was a misstep in the campaign.
Then, it was the Clinton connection to the Indian government and Indian interests - investments by the candidate and the would-be first gentleman in India, fund-raising among Indian Americans, and Mr. Clinton's speaking fees from Cisco, a champion of out-sourcing. A memorandum sent out by Obama's staff was headlined "Hillary Clinton (D-Punjab)" In an interview with the Associated Press, the Illinois Senator labeled the memo "unnecessarily caustic" and a "dumb mistake" and in an interviw with India Abroad (reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer) conceded that the concerns of the Indian-American community regarding the memo are "entirely justified." (This, a rarity among politicians- a real apology.) Never mind that the national chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education had introduced Senator Clinton at a fundraiser as Senator "not only from New York but also Punjab." Never mind that this remark, according to DemocraticUnderground.com, was followed immediately by Mrs. Clinton remarking "I can certainly run for the Senate seat in Punjab and win easily." This was, as Senator Obama recognized, a major public relations gaffe, requiring a quick and definitive retraction/apology.
Now, something extraordinary. Huffington Post reports that Barack Obama at a fundraiser has commented "the only person who would probably be ready to be our President on Day One would be Bill Clinton-not Hillary Clinton."
Barack Obama is a reasonably experienced, gifted, unusually intelligent member of the United States Congress who has an inspiring life story to tell; a progressive record; and early opposition to the Iraq war to herald. And he tells us he is not qualified to be President. And tells the media. And tells the Republican opposition. And tells Bill Clinton, who would wisely respond by assuring us that not only is Senator Clinton qualified to be President on "Day One," she is more qualified than even he was at that time. (Debatable, but reasonable.) And tells Hillary Clinton herself, who can burnish her national security credentials (obviously a prime aim of her campaign) by telling us that in such a dangerous word, with the "War on Terror," proliferation of nuclear weapons, our soldiers defending us abroad, etc., a President must be ready to defend our country from the moment he or she is inaugurated. And if Barack Obama somehow is nominated for President, I think it unlikely that his Republican opponent will concede that he himself is unqualified to be President (oh, yeah, on Day One).

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tough-Guy Republicans

If you want to understand the major difference between Democratic primary voters and Republican primary voters (aside from the obvious one of ideology), look no further than the campaigns of John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Barack Obama.

Barack Obama recently inaugurated his Iowa media campaign. One of his first two ads, one called "Carry," features Republican State Senator Kirk Dillard of Illinois, who cites Obama's alleged "negotiation skills and an ability to understand both sides." The emphasis on bipartisanship in the ad dovetails with Obama's argument on the campaign trail that politics in Washington have become too heated and divisive.

Over on the Republican side, Senator McCain's support has been perceptively slipping. McCain had long been considered the GOP frontrunner and likely nominee. However, the American Research Group had the Arizona Senator favored by 30% of likely Republican primary voters in March, 2007 but down to 20% in April, 2007. Other polls have documented a similar drop in popularity, especially startling for a veteran Republican legislator and war hero. Compare this to former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani. In each monthly poll conducted by the ARG, Rudy topped every Republican in the hearts of likely primary voters.

And what is the major difference between McCain and Giuliani? Each has deviated significantly at times from the Republican orthodoxy on various issues, McCain on campaign finance reform, tax cuts for the wealthy, and torture; Giuliani on gun control, abortion rights, and gay rights. Nevertheless, Giuliani has gained a reputation for a partisan, "take no prisoners" approach. As Michelle Cottle of The New Republic has written, "he's running as the tough-guy candidate, the man who, when anyone dares question his bomb-'em-all foreign policy impulses, begins quivering with self-righteous outrage and demands a retraction based on the fact that, on September 11, He Was There!" The candidate who, as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports, is now condemning Bill Clinton and Democrats generally as soft on terrorism. The mayor, who, as his term was expiring, in late 2001, threatened to run as a Conserviative Party candidate for mayor, defying New York City's term limits law, if the three major candidates for mayor would not agree to extend his term by three months.

John McCain, by contrast, has earned a reputation as being willing and able to "work across the aisle," to deal with Democrats when needed to advance legislation. Even his ardent support for the illegal immigration bill currently being debated in Congress would not be quite as unpopular with the Republican voter base, not as politically devastating as it is proving, were his GOP critics not able to deride the proposal as the "Kennedy-McCain" bill. The result? Sarah Baxter of The London Times reports that if his fundraising and poll numbers continue to falter, the Arizona Senator may drop out of the race within a few months. John is not nearly the authoritarian Rudy (or George W.) is. And he's suffering for it.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Likeability In Presidential Politics

Roger Simon of Politico is a sane, sober political analyst, and usually right.

Not today. On NBC's Meet the Press, Simon today stated "The calculation in the Clinton campaign is that after eight years of George Bush, the American people want competence this time, not likability. And competence and strength is what's going to win in 2008, not who you want to go to the bar and have a beer with." Yet in 1988 a Democratic governor of Massachusetts declared in his acceptance speech (see "A New Era is About to Begin") "But this election isn't about ideology. It's about competence."

But when the vote came in, Michael Dukakis had lost to George Herbert Walker Bush. And the latter's son in 2000 defeated Al Gore (though not in the national popular vote) and, more importantly, in 2004 defeated John Kerry, when evidence of the incompetence of George W. Bush already was evident. The American people want a President whom they like, and with whom they are comfortable. Witness the recent Sopranos-like commercial rolling out the H. Clinton campaign song, an ad hailed everywhere for presenting a likeable "small-town girl." The Clinton campaign advisers realize that their candidate's weakness remains the "ick" factor- just not someone you're comfortable seeing on the 6:00 news (or cable news, or youtube, or anywhere) every day for the next four years.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Strangers: Giuliani And Foreign Policy

On June 12, 2007 Rudy Giuliani (Mayor, 9/11) issued his "Twelve Commitments to the American People." Rather vague, they say nothing about Iraq. Or Iran. Or Pakistan (to which our government, according to Michael Smerconish, "pays 80 million dollars a month in military reimbursements for its supposed counter-terrorist efforts"). Or Russia and Nato. Or the Palestinian Jewish/Palestinian Arab problem.

But perhaps it's not surprising. As was reported on June 18, 2007 in Newsday, Mr. Giuliani was an original member of the Iraq Study Group, popularly known as the Baker-Hamilton commission. However, after the former mayor missed several meetings (and attended none), Mr. Baker called and asked him to step down if he did not intend to appear more often. Rudy quit the commission, citing other commitments, understandable given that the other commitments garned him $11.4 million in speaking fees in 14 months.

Adored by the mainstream media- which attributes to him national security credentials for being mayor of New York City on 9/11/01- Giuliani still has not gone to Iraq. Or, apparently, expressed a serious opinion about the war, considered everywhere to be the most important issue facing the American electorate and serious Presidential aspirants. Joshua Micah Marshall reports that the former mayor expressed to the New York Times his truly decisive stance on Iraq: "Iraq may get better; Iraq may get worse. We may be successful in Iraq; we may not be."

Rudy Giuliani in the past has exhibited little knowledge about foreign affairs, and still does not.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Edwards In The Mainstream On Gay Rights

In a post on The Huffington Post, Wendy Button recounts an episode during which Bob Shrum, who has run (usually unsuccessful) political campaigns for Democratic Presidential candidates and others, reportedly asked Senator John Edwards about gay rights. "I'm not comfortable around those people," Shrum claims Edwards replied.

Ms. Buttons is not alone in questioning this version of an event which occurred in 1998. She is incredulous that someone as decent and devoid of bigotry as John Edwards could have made such a remark. Before Massachusetts legalized gay marriage, before Vermont- as the first state in the U.S.A.- legalized civil unions. And what did Edwards allegedly say? He disliked gay people? That he supported a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage? That gay people were not entitled to full partnership benefits? That homosexuality is condemned in the Bible? No. John Edwards, a straight, married man from the American south, allegedly said- almost a decade ago- that he is "uncomfortable" around gay people, a feeling held by many (if not most) people on main street America in 1998. And now.

It is likely that Edwards did not make the remark as quoted by Bob Shrum. But the suggestion that his only defense is that he was significantly misquoted- that such an emotion would be abhorrent- is contemptuous of the values held by a considerable portion of the American electorate.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Decline Of The Middle Class

As described in this essay by Maggie Mahar and frequently by Lou Dobbs (yes, that Lou Dobbs), the middle class has lost ground in the United States. (Some portion, though not most, of this can be attributed to George W. Bush.) Focusing on the poor as a route to the White House admittedly is tricky, and likely will prove unsuccessful, whether for John Edwards or anyone else. Clearly, it cannot be accomplished without linking the fate of the middle class to to that of the poor. One means to this end is rhetorical- simply referring regularly to "the middle class" and less often to "the poor." Another is by careful selection of issues, such as health care. Limiting criticism of the current system to failure to insure every American is a mistake, notwithstanding the emphasis placed therein by the mainstream media. (Note here the example given by Elizabeth Warren, in which a sick child's parents were urged to consider divorce and welfare. I suspect this sort of thing is not unusual.) The health care system has failed many, if not most, Americans, most of them middle class and not poor.
And there are policies, such as outsourcing and "free trade," which drag the middle class down. Recognizing the impact of these policies in separating the wealthy from the poor and the middle class will not please the Democratic Leisure Class (DLC) nor the MSM, but probably would stem the erosion of support of the Democratic Party by the middle class and working class and, probably, win a few elections.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Edwards Addresses Health Care

It's not single-payer, or national health care, but the proposals John Edwards is poised to make, as reported by the ABC News website, to reduce the cost of health care are a good start. Presumably, a)removing patents for companies that develop breakthrough drugs; b)offering cash incentives for companies to produce those drugs; and c)requiring companies to spend on health care a certain percentage of those premiums would reduce the cost of health care. Senator Obama also has addressed the need to reduce health care costs, as will the Republican candidates, eventually. However, their proposals will, not coincidentally, look a lot like efforts to enrich the private sector and drive up costs to consumers. A similarly bold prediction: the Oakland Raiders will not win the next Super Bowl.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

War Czar

How many Republicans does it take to screw up Iraq policy?

National Security advisor (and staff). Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (and staff). Secretary of State (and staff). Secretary of Homeland Security (and staff). And now...
War Czar (and staff).

The man we have been repeatedly told is resolute, decisive, so sure of himself. The man who prides himself on being "The Decider." The man who has bragged of being Commander in Chief. The man who recently was scolding Congresss (a.k.a. Democrats) for wanting to effect policy for Gulf War II rather than leaving it to "the Generals." Now, President George W. Bush needs Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute as a "war czar."

From Washington to Clinton, from 1789 through 2006, we had a "war czar." He was called President.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Robert Bork, Tort Reform Phoney

So who was the leading proponent of tort reform in the 1980's? Robert Bork, perhaps? It seems Judge Bork, tapped by President Reagan for the United States Supreme Court but rejected by the U.S. Senate, now has quite a different view of what conservatives like to call "frivolous lawsuits." Perhaps it's acceptable to sue the Yale Club of New York City- after all, it's not an insurance company, a bank, an oil company, or some other entrenched corporate interest, which the GOP likes to shield from accountability.

Friday, June 08, 2007

GOP Debate (On Hunter, Giuliani, Brownback)

Some impressions, albeit three days later, from the Republican Presidential debate of June 5, 2007:

Representative Duncan Hunter, following applause for remarks by Representative Tom Tancredo, former Governor Huckabee, and his own remarks regarding two Border Control agents imprisoned after shooting an illegal immigrant bringing a huge cache of marijuana into the U.S.A., makes a notable mistake for a GOP debate: he betrays an interest in the middle class (and immediately after mentioning the iconic Ronald Reagan!) And, of course... no applause.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani accuses the Democrats of having two nights earlier promoted socialized medicine. Given that only one (Representative Dennis Kucinich) of the candidates specifically advocated a single-payer system, this would be disturbing if Rudy actually believed it. Of course, if moderator Wolf Blitzer doesn't call him on it, there is no reason why Rudy 9-11 Giuliani shouldn't throw his audience some red meat.

Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas has recommended in at least two GOP debates a three-state solution (Sunni, Shiite, Kurd) for Iraq. This puts him in the same company as his colleague, Democratic candidate Joe Biden of Delaware, who has recommended this for, oh, probably over a year now. In the unlikely event something positive comes out of Persian Gulf War II, it will probably be something similar. Perhaps President Bush will come to believe thusly- or perhaps he does already. However, in September General Petraeus comes back to Congress and will not say: "Sorry, I have failed, the situation is growing grimmer." Some progress and/or a need to give the escalation (pardon me, "surge") more time will be claimed. A three-state solution, however, may have to be invoked at some time as the rationale for continuing military involvement.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Clinton And Hypotheticals

This from electioncentral.tpmcafe.com:

"Part of the vibe about Hillary winning the debate might come from this: She led a revolt against Wolf Blitzer's frequent use of 'raise your hand' questions. "Well we're not goint to engage in these hypotheticals," Hillary said, in response to a question about a missile strike against Osama bin Laden that might kill civilians. "I mean one of the jobs of a president is being very reasoned in approaching these issues. And I don't think it's useful to be talking in these kinds of abstract hypothetical terms."

But it is only showing respect for the voter when a candidate presenting herself for election, who purports (accurately, in this case) to be qualified to be President, is willing to answer hypothetical questions. In fact, any question about what an aspirant would do once elected is a "hypothetical" question. As an example: "Senator, you're being asked to give a conservative Republican President authority to act as he finds necessary in Iraq. If you vote to give him that authority and he does not continue inspections- which you believe he should- and instead launches a military attack. Will that maintain our national security, or perhaps lead to the deaths of thousands of American servicemen, encourage recruitment of terrorists, bog us down in a civil war, and entice an Iraqi government to move closer to a militant Shiite regime in Iran?" Likely response: "I'm sorry, I can't get into hypotheticals."

This was not Mrs. Clinton's only refusal in this manner to answer a question. Asked if as President she would enact a no-fly zone in Darfur, the Senator responded "Well, but we're not going to engage in these hypotheticals."
The failure to consider "hypotheticals" bears an eerie similarity to the Senator's refusal to admit that she erred in supporting the original Iraqi war resolution in 2002. She says (seemingly confirmed by a statement she gave in the Senate at the time) that she wanted the President to try to gain U.N. approval for "unfettered" inspections in Iraq and that his management of the war would not be a colossal failure. But he didn't, and it was. An officeholder must consider hypothetical situations, such as: whether the person in charge will act as I wish (he didn't) and how effective he/she will be in pursuing an alternative policy (not at all). If she did not consider those factors, she was shortsighted; if she did, she didn't take into account that the man in charge was George W. Bush.

Don't want to consider hypothetical situations? Then every policy/law that sounds good, we'll enact it. Implementation? Unimportant. We can always say "with what we knew at the time...."

Similarly, consider Mrs. Clinton's steadfast refusal to admit that President Clinton erred when he proposed and implemented the "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward gays in the military. (Full disclosure: I was in favor of it.) Rationalizing it as "a transitional policy," Senator Clinton now favors ending it. In addition to citing discharge of Arabic linguists, she asserted "after the first Gulf War there was a big flood of discharges of gays and lesbians because they let them serve and then after they finished the war, then they discharged them." If this did occur (without a flaunting of their sexual status the approach was designed in part to prevent), a violation of the spirit and the letter of the law occurred and the policy clearly failed. Hence, one finds it difficult for those gays (male and female) punished for serving their country and complying with the policy to be comforted by the Senator's assurance that it was merely a "transitional" policy. Thanks, folks, we needed you as guinea pigs.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Giuliani- Betting On The Rich

Although it was posted a little over three weeks ago, this report by Greg Sargent about the Rudy campaign snubbing a farmer is well worth reading- for several reasons:


1- The Giuliani campaign is urging elimination of the "death tax"- which is actually a tax on the few households with huge assets. Its emphasis on this suggests that Rudy is hedging his bet on modifying the candidate's view of abortion and/or gay rights- that flip-flopping on these cultural issues may not sell. Or perhaps he wants to reassure Republicans that he is, after all, a true Republican- committed to exacerbating the gap between the rich and the rest of us.

2- If by some chance Giuliani is nominated and the Democrats can't paint Giuliani as stoking the fires of class warfare, the Party may never find a way to regain the support of the middle-class and the working-class it has lost over the last forty years.

3- Liberal media? We haven't heard much about the Von Sprecken family, but we know how much John Edwards has paid for a haircut.

A Trump Favorite

Maria Ricardel, forced out as deputy national security adviser by First Lady Melania Trump after a tiff about seating arrangements on a...