Thursday, September 30, 2004

talking about the draft

the issue of the draft is a football bouncing around the political playing field in the most literal sense. you've got liberal democrats pushing the idea as a way of class-evening the military (thus theoretically reducing the enthusiasm of the largely non-militarized upper classes for military adventurism) while conservatives regularly dismiss the draft and deny it plays a role in their plans, even as they aggressively expand our overseas presence and stretch our current forces dangerously thin. of course, the issue is politically radioactive for the mainstream of either party, so even a reasonable idea like a public service requirement that entails a choice between shorter military service or longer community service, goes unaddressed.

jonathan alter discusses the state of the draft in newsweek, and his final paragraph sums it up nicely:

Both Bush and Kerry insist they won't revive the draft. But someday a presidential candidate will come along who has the guts to propose national service, in which every young American serves his or her country either in the military or in community-service projects at home.

guts ? a presidential candidate ? maybe when the american public has the guts to seriously consider a proposal like that.

- LH

the bush agenda: bay of pigs payback time up next ?

let's set aside the debate over the effectiveness of bush's missile defense system, conveniently operationalized just weeks before the election even though its nowhere near even it's own minimalist standards of effectiveness. let's even set aside the opportunity cost argument, and the notion that we're investing vast sums of money to protect ourselves against paper tiger rogue states instead of al quaeda and the real terrorist threat.

i want to know exactly what problem missile defense is supposed to solve ? the president's asinine quote: "We say to those tyrants who believe they can blackmail America and the free world, ‘You fire, we’re going to shoot it down.’” is clearly targeted at North Korea, but it couldnt be more misleading. the reality is that NK is simply no threat to launch a missile at the united states. call it 'individual assured destruction' if you will: kim jong-il recognizes that lobbing even a single nuclear warhead our way utterly and completely guarantees the nuclear annhilation of his regime, if not entire nation. its a certainty. you simply can't blackmail someone when the threat of their retaliation is vastly greater than your own attack. if anything, anything defines kim's regime, its an instinct for self-preservation.

iran ? again, IAD. not to mention that they are nowhere close to having a delivery system that could threaten the US. israel, maybe. but i dont see a missile defense system in alaska solving that problem.

missile defense is a cold war relic, another sign of the bush administration fighting wars and settling scores from our history books. george bush is chasing after our past fervently; maybe the rest of us should start worrying about our future.


- LH

at some point won't california just get fed up and secede ?

they've GOT to be getting tired of the rest of the country dragging them backwards on such a wide variety of issues. once again, when california leads, the rest of america tries every possible manner of kicking, screaming and generally unacceptable public behavior to keep them from doing the right thing:

An eight-lane-wide menu of stalling tactics is promised by automakers, who say they'll keep all options open in vociferous resistance to the new rules. Detroit manufacturers have a long history of resisting government-mandated innovations from catalytic converters to low- and zero-emission cars since the early 1960s.

"California's cars and trucks still create 40 percent of this state's [greenhouse gases] and are clearly linked to global warming," says Assemblywoman Fran Pavley (D) of Woodland Hills, who authored the bill that led to the rules. "The automobile industry and oil companies declared full-scale war, just as they had fought seat belts, air bags, catalytic converters, and unleaded gas."

that's a long list of items with enormous social benefits, all of which the auto industry fought against tooth and nail. the next time you hear an auto company talking about 'social responsibility' keep it in mind.

- LH

i cant decide which depressing scenario is more likely

is it A) that the administration thinks nothing of manipulating the public agenda to ensure that their actual policies are obscured behind a facade of moderation ?

or B) that there's no way they would bother to hide a report like this because americans basically couldn't care less about the environment, and their record is already so breathtakingly poor as to ensure that this news is a mere footnote in what is sure to be an encyclopedia of ecological crimes ?

can C) be 'all of the above' ?

- LH

start paying attention anytime now. . .

interesting study from the National Annenberg Election Survey today, basically telling us what we already know: American voters are dramatically underinformed and/or apathetic. the study group blames the media:

Kate Kenski, a senior research analyst at the Annenberg Public Policy Center, blamed the misperceptions on the candidates' focus on Iraq and the news media's emphasis on the "horse race."

two thoughts on this: 1. of COURSE the focus on iraq eats up public attention. its the defining issue. find me a subset of society that cares more about the estate tax than iraq. ok, if you answered grover norquist and a big chunk of the GOP you're right, but i think they're covered in the portion of this survey that's paying attention. 2. the news media loves the horse race, but at some point don't we have to start asking why the american populace needs to be spoon fed information on the candidates ? is there any burden of citizenship that involves informing oneself and seeking out the relative positions ? the media shares responsibility, but the reality is that if voters didn't respond to articles and commentary highlighting irrelevant minutiae about the candidates personal grooming and syntax, the media wouldn't keep producing them.

- LH

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

one loser in tomorrow's debate

is the american public. two fine pieces from over at tapped -

rob garver in the american prospect notes that the media loves to bash the debates as empty stagecraft and a shared press conference, thereby ensuring that they can unabashedly provide 'analysis' that falls somewhere near people magazine's coverage of the daytime emmys:

Sadly, this is how it begins: By preemptively declaring the debates to be meaningless political theater, the television news networks are giving themselves permission to cover them not as a battle of ideas but as a spectacle.

and mediamatters.org on how kerry is already playing catch-up, regardless of what the voters might think.

In the run-up to this year's presidential debates, some in the media are once again playing the "expectations game" in favor of President George W. Bush against his Democratic opponent -- the same thing that happened four years ago.

- LH


if only it WERE extraordinary

blog obsidian wings on the latest GOP fulfilment of their newfound post-9/11 committment to human rights. or was it post-guantanamo ? or was it post-abu ghraib ?

i can never remember.

much respect to ed markey for leadership on this issue.

- LH

hitchens dicks around

speaking of delusional, christopher hitchens has never recovered even the tiny bit of wits he may have held onto on 9/10. but it certainly doesn't stop him from issuing incoherent rantings that abandon logic with enthusiasm. his latest column for slate is really remarkable. my personal highlight is this line, said without hint of sarcasm or irony, in response to THK's comment about the potential for an 'october surprise' apprehension of osama bin laden:

What will it take to convince these people that this is not a year, or a time, to be dicking around? Americans are patrolling a front line in Afghanistan, where it would be impossible with 10 times the troop strength to protect all potential voters on Oct. 9 from Taliban/al-Qaida murder and sabotage. We are invited to believe that these hard-pressed soldiers of ours take time off to keep Osama Bin Laden in a secret cave, ready to uncork him when they get a call from Karl Rove? For shame.

indeed, chris, no dicking around. we shouldnt dick around playing politics with troop levels and strengths, we shouldn't dick around pretending that we can pay for the war on terror with tax cuts, and we certainly shouldnt dick around running a campaign based on ignoring policy and attacking an opponent for a manufactured personality flaw.

hey, i don't believe we'll see bin laden in october. but it's not because i don't think it's something rove and company are capable of. its a pragmatic problem - what if you've got osama roped in someplace and he goes and dies on you ? or even worse, escapes ? no, if you've got him, you don't risk the negative - you take the positive and surf it, regardless of timing. that being said, given this administrations willingness to mask, misrepresent, and deny factual reality at every opportunity (see 9/11-saddam connection propogation for starters), what makes hitchens so sure they would stop now ?

- LH

ps the more i think about this line the more amazed i become. if only hitchens had been so bold as to write the same line - What will it take to convince these people that this is not a year, or a time, to be dicking around? - about invading Iraq instead of finishing the fight against al quaeda. the invasion of iraq is the DEFINITION of dicking around.

how conservatives sleep at night

a recent political chat with a conservative friend led down an interesting road this week. in a discussion about other topics, i noted that he, as a high-income earner (over the kerry-threshold of $200k/year) was more likely to receive a tax hike under kerry than bush.

to my great surprise, he disagreed, noting that given the size of the deficit, a tax increase seemed likely under either candidate. our conversation moved on quickly and the point was left unaddressed, but since then it's haunted me like freddy kruger.

is this how conservatives can look in the mirror ? bush ran for president during an economic boom - his keystone tax policy was, of course, massive tax cuts. when the economy took a downturn, he adjusted his rationale but maintained the policy instrument - tax cuts. and with the economy in the tank, two tax cuts under his belt and only the feeblest of recoveries stirring, his answer was, of course, more tax cuts. even now, with a fragile recovery perhaps underway, the only debate within his party or administration is the degree to which taxes will continue to be cut.

and yet my conservative friend, in a moment of rationality and aware of the ballooning deficit, realizes the untenability of that policy. and assumes that bush will somehow reverse course, abandon the core economic principle that's guided his ENTIRE political career, and do the right thing.

is that the kind of self-deception it requires to feel good about 4 more years ?

- LH

did we annex manitoba while i was out ?

in an otherwise harmlessly moronic indulgence piece in the NYT magazine this weekend, john tierney basically abandons any interest in objective, or even thorough, analysis to cheerlead for quaint 50's era american graffiti-inspired fantasies about the unique american spirit of the automobile. all the fantastic photography in this article couldn't begin to cover up the remarkable predisposition with which he approaches the subject - environmentalists and urban planners inevitably cast as closed-minded inflexible fuddy-duddies, obsessed with their narrow agenda of making drivers' lives miserable, while proponents of the car are undoubtedly visionary futurists with a keen sense of human nature and old fashioned market pragmatism. environmentalists are the city bus that's 10 minutes late on a rainy dark evening; freeway builders are the classic convertible with the top down and 'electric avenue' on the radio.

but tierney accidentally tries to drop a few facts into his car mythology, and things fall apart rather quickly. my favorite example:

The major change in land use in recent decades has been the gain of 70 million acres of wilderness -- more than all the land currently occupied by cities, suburbs and exurbs, according to Peter Huber, author of ''Hard Green: Saving the Environment From the Environmentalists.''

70 million acres ? wait a minute, we've GAINED an area the size of colorado in 'recent decades' ? or could it be that what really happened was the federal government relabeling existing undeveloped lands ? tierney wants readers to believe that some secret force in american society is reclaiming former strip malls and walmart parking lots and returning them to a primeval state. in fact, this 70 million acres represents not a single new square yard. capitalizing the 'w' in 'wilderness' does nothing to change the fact that sprawl is destroying our countrysides, open spaces, and wildlife habitats. if that interferes with john tierneys wistful teenage illusions about burning rubber and doing donuts in the parking lot, i wont apologize.

- LH

as if we needed any more evidence

regular readers of the thunderdome can't have much left to doubt, but sometimes it's helpful to see the bush administrations record on environmental issues summarzied a bit more broadly. the bush strategy of incrementalist hobbling, death by a thousand cuts as it were, can obscure the bigger picture of an administration that views the environment as merely a storehouse of limitless resource wealth and nothing more. the seattle times takes a five part look:

From Montana to New Mexico, extraction of natural gas, coal and coal-bed methane is reaching levels unmatched since the early 1980s, sparking environmental disputes and creating new pockets of wealth. Just the number of new oil and natural-gas drilling permits yearly on federal lands under President Bush is 60 percent higher than it was under President Clinton.
And Clinton had opened more federal land to exploration than his predecessor, George H. W. Bush. The transition is a testament to a Bush White House so committed to energy development that removing obstacles to drilling has become one of its signature natural-resource achievements.


- LH

It's a faux, faux, faux world.

Faux News is at it again. This might seem like a harmless and humorous story tying John Kerry with a negative situation, but I have no doubt it's part of a Faux News strategy to smear Kerry, in whatever subtle way they can without seeming too biased.

In a nutshell, it's a story about a guy in England named John Kerry who was recently busted for a DUI by his girlfriend. The only reason it made the news is because the guy had the same name as Kerry, but this story was plastered on the homepage of Faux News. You'd be surprised how some stories run. Someone can look at the headline quickly and assume that the real John Kerry was busted for DUI. Right now, the Republicans have a small army of operatives scanning the news for anything they can use against Kerry. I'm sure they forwarded this story to Faux.

Do I sound paranoid? Maybe, but I blog, you decide.

-MB

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Ride the lightning

Even after a week of Kerry being on the offensive, it looks like Bush is making some gains in the polls. These polls have been notoriously unreliable, but it seems the consensus in most, is that Bush has a lead over Kerry.

At this point I can't fault Kerry. He's going on the offensive and confronting Bush on all the important points related to Iraq. Most of us have been saying that Kerry needs to make Iraq THE issue of the campaign, but I'm reconsidering the wisdom of that strategy. Saying that Iraq is a disaster simply might be a losing issue for Kerry. Let me explain. Remember, Americans got behind Bush pretty quickly when he made his original WMD argument for this war, and when none of these weapons were found, the rationale shifted to bringing democracy to Iraq, and Americans shifted their support for the effort just as quickly. Even as Iraq descends into absolute anarchy, support for Bush's Iraq policy still hovers in the mid-50s range. This number has been pretty consistent for a while now.

Why I think making Iraq THE campaign issue will be a loser for Kerry is that Americans don't want to be reminded they were duped so easily into this war. They would have to concede they allowed themselves to be duped. With the wobbly evidence that got us in this war in the first place, Americans who got in line for this war have their reputations on the line as much as Bush. Americans don't want to admit they are easily manipulatd simpletons, so, for better or for worse, they're fully invested in this Iraqi endeavor.

So that's why Kerry might not get anywhere with using Iraq as an issue, even though he's saying all the right things. By attacking Bush, he's indirectly attacking Americans that supported/support this war, and there are a lot of independents in that group. By admitting that the war was wrong, and holding Bush accountable for it, these war supporters would have to acknowledge their own complicity and stupidity in the matter. Harsh? Yes, but not nearly as harsh as life is in Iraq right now. We've yet to hit the threshold where Americans might be bothered by the loss of American lives in Iraq (Let's be honest here, Iraqi lives are basically meaningless in this equation.). Until we hit Vietnam era casualties, the war supporters will be content with their delusions of grandeur of bringing democracy to the middle east, and tolerate the chaos that's enveloping Iraq.

A lot of Americans are truly bothered by what's going on Iraq, and more importantly, how we got there. But unfortunately, there just aren't enough of them.

-MB

The King and I

FIFTY more minutes? Are you kidding me? Thank you very much Mr. Jackson. Return of the King was pure gold and now the extended version is supposed to include 50 additional minutes of new material. That, my friends, will be FOUR hours of pure joy.

-MB

Monday, September 27, 2004

a new week, a new metaphor

reading this thoroughly pessimistic viewpoint about the state of affairs in iraq forced some serious reflection. my colleague the Blaster and i hold somewhat different outlooks on the potential for rescuing this situation from unlimited disaster - neither of us are optimistic, but i maintain a glimmer of tiny, most likely delusional, hope.

that glimmer can be best explained by indulging president bush in a metaphor of his own choosing. bush has frequently been described as a 'CEO' president. leader, visionary, pointing directions without micromanaging steps. fine.

what's gone on in iraq reminds me of an enormous company after it's successful CEO steps down and hands over the reins. for whatever reason, new CEO bush took a significant portion of USA Inc.'s limited capital resources, and invested it in a little venture called 'Iraq Amalgamated'. Iraq Amalgamated has been a poorly run operation for some time, limping along helping noone. bush tried to make a quick buck, pumping in some capital and hoping Iraq Amalg. would get back on its fbet.

But here we are, one year later, and not only is our investment tanking, it's bleeding the parent company severely. Iraq Amalgamated is showing little if any potential for profit (in this metaphor, democracy is profit, eh ?) or generating enough revenue even to break even (stability ?). this investment is going from bad to worse quickly, and the shareholders (taxpayers) are getting screwed financially (deficit) and by the opportunity cost of investing in Iraq rather than smaller, high-growth companies like 'Finding Osama Inc.'

the current state of affairs begs a simple question. can continued American investment in this company turn it revenue positive ? And if so, are the American people (and their leaders) willing to MAKE the investment at the level necessary to do it ? i, for one, think that Iraq Amalgamated can be turned into a mildly profitable operation. Break it into three divisions and pump serious volumes of capital into the business. but my confidence in that notion is brittle at best.

what i'm certain of is that our current level of investment will never, quite honestly never, show positive returns. what we're doing now is throwing just enough money into Iraq's Amalgamated's coffers so it can keep writing paychecks and making promises - every day the crater left by the company's eventual collapse gets larger.

i don't know if CEO kerry is ready to ask america to make the investment it's going to require. and if he does, i dont know if congress or the american people will respond. but i do know that CEO bush hasn't and never will. and that alone is enough to ensure he's negotiating a severance package in november.

- LH

bill safire, adventures in hypocrisy

safire on kerry, in today's NYT

It's bad enough for some thoughtless media outlets to become an echo chamber for scare propaganda; it's worse when the nominee of a major party approves its use to press his antiwar candidacy.

dick cheney two weeks ago

"It's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on Nov. 2, we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we'll get hit again and we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States," Cheney told supporters at a town-hall meeting Tuesday.

it really is unbelievable. or maybe safire really believes 'scare propoganda' is ok if you're a prowar candidate. heck if you're pro-war, what ISN'T ok ?

- LH

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Hey...Taxi!

In a couple of weeks a new movie called "Taxi" is going to be released. It stars Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon.

Huh? Talk about clueless. There has been one, and only one, taxi movie made, and that gem of a movie was DC Cab. I'm not sure what those Hollywood producers were thinking by greenlighting another taxi themed movie, but they're looking for trouble.

DC Cab defined a generation. There was such a fundamental paradigm shift after that movie came out, that it forever obliterated the need for taxi-based movies. Take a look at this cast. I mean, Dewayne Jessie, Paul Rodriguez AND Mr. T? Having those stars align was a once in a lifetime deal.

Sure, every couple of years, some naive fool suggests following through on a sequel to DC Cab, but there's absolutely no way they'll get the principals back for such a movie, and if they think they can make a sequel without Max Gail AND Irene Cara, well, the fans simply won't stand for it.

I wonder what Mr. T would say about this new taxi movie?

-MB

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Powell of Crap

Colin Powell is the most irrelevant Secretary of State in modern times.

Shocked? Well, don’t be. Take a look at Colin’s record and you will see nothing but irrelevance. Foreign policy in this country is dictated completely from the White House and the Pentagon. For the past four years, Powell has been forced to do nothing but cleanup for the imbecilic actions of the Pentagon and the White House. And he’s done an absolutely poor job doing that.

Powell has been able to cruise along in this administration as being labled the realist and the one who’s been fighting to soften the edgier aspects of the administration’s foreign policy. Powell gets to travel around the world and have desperate diplomats kiss his butt, thinking somehow he’s the only rational one in the administration. Powell thrives and revels in this positive characterization. He can posture and throw out hollow statements that seem to suggest we value the opinion of the rest of the world, meanwhile, any real action is undercut by Rumsfield and the Bushies. But Powell is content being perceived as the lone good guy, because it allows him to travel the world and have his arse collectively kissed, without having to actually do anything.

Let’s take a look at his record:

Israel. Once again, he’s been left on the sidelines on this issue. When Bush went through the motions of unveiling his ridiculous “roadmap”, it was Condoleeza Rice who was empowered to see it through (and of course she has been invisible on this issue, as Sharon’s recent castrating of the road map demonstrates). Did it occur to Powell that maybe HE should be the one responsible for this major foreign policy initiative? Powell recently came out and pleaded that
Yasser Arafat step aside so the peace process could restart. That sounds logical on its face, since Yasser is a murderous thug, but who in the heck is Powell to demand Yasser leave the scene? The US has NO credibility on the Palestinian issue, and now our Sec. of State wants the main player to leave the scene? Why should he? The implication is that the Palestinian people might benefit from his absence, but there’s no reason to believe that with Bush in the White House. Our foreign policy has made the irrelevant Arafat relevant, because we consider the Israeli-Palestinian issue as important, as oh, say the National Lambada championships.

Iraq. The media talking heads and the foreign policy establishment love to blather on how it was Powell who convinced Bush to seek a UN resolution on the Iraq issue. We were spoon-fed the typical nonsense of how Powell advocated the value of obtaining the support of the world if we were to undertake such an action as invasion. Powell should have seen that he was being railroaded into a war that he did not think we should fight. And Powell’s defining legacy will be his appearance at the UN explaining the threat Iraq posed to the world. I’m sure you remember it, we got all the neat overheads of bioweapons labs, a paper bag that was suppose represent anthrax and how many thousands of people it could kill, and on and on. Powell sat there and misled the entire world using information he knew was sketchy at best, advocating for a war he did not support. And after a year and half, with no weapons in sight, Powell has declined to resign.

But why should he. I’m sure he’s planning to leave if Bush gets re-elected. He’ll come off as the faithful soldier, even though he'll stroke the Foggy Bottom crowd by reinforcing the belief he was the only sane one in the group. Powell is concerned with one thing, and that is image control. Once he leaves his job, he can expect four more years of butt-kissing for being the only rational one in the administration, and no one will take him to task for empowering Bush to behave so irrationally. He’ll get his 100K speech appearance fees, and he’ll travel the world, listening to foreign diplomats fawn over him, “if bush had only listened to you…”

Powell is an egotistical maniac concerned about one person: himself.


-MB

Friday, September 24, 2004

Nothing's perfect indeed

You have to hand it to Rumsfield, he can always be counted on to be Mister "quote machine." On top of that, the man is unapologetically incorrigible. When asked how elections could be held in Iraq when so many areas are too chaotic to properly hold a fair election, the Rummer replied:

"Nothing's perfect in life," Rumsfeld told a Senate committee on Thursday. "You have an election that's not quite perfect. Is it better than not having an election? You bet."
If only the Bushies could hold this same standard in our US presidential election. Since states like California and New York are considered politically unfriendly terroritories for Republicans, I'm sure the Bushies, at least in their eyes, would feel comfortable holding an election without these states participating. As Rumsfield might say, "It is better than not having an election (if Cali and New York were not participating)? You bet."

-MB

The terrorists have already won...

Most of you have already caught the story that Cat Stevens was prevented from entering the US. This is really an amazing story. The reason behind this, at least the reason the US government has come up with, is that Cat has given money to charities that are thought to have funneled funds to terrorists. Cat has come out repeatly and condemned Islamic terrorism (at least most types. Juan Cole has a nice breakdown on Cat's position on Salaman Rushdie - point is, Cat is no angel, but he's also not a clear and present danger to the US.).

But if the "war on terror" (it's so sad, that quote has almost become a punchline, mainly due to Bush's incompetent handling of this "war"), has come down to this, then we've truly lost it. If a nation like the United States, the "greatest" military power the world has ever seen, has created a political and social climate, where someone of Cat Steven's caliber (meaning, he's basically a nobody), can not enter the US, then we have lost, lost, lost this war. It's as if we're a grown man, face down in a puddle of water, flailing wildly because we can't breathe, yet lacking the common sense to merely turn over to save ourselves.

-MB

Thursday, September 23, 2004

call it what you will

marisa katz in the new republic with an outstanding piece about Sudan and the empty rhetoric surrounding the ‘genocide’ label. The book by samantha power which she cites is incredible, mainly for its illustration of the notion that genocide is significantly more commonplace in recent history than one might assume, but also for the subtext – that the definition and use of the actual word has dominated the public debate on the subject. As katz notes, arguing interminably about the meaning and applications of the label is laughable if that label has no implications or consequences.

And so it comes to this: Unless the United States, the European Union, and the rest of the United Nations start to see past their legal responsibilities and accept their moral ones, Khartoum could be just the first government to take such a blasé attitude about accusations of genocide. And saying the word will be just as cowardly as not saying anything at all.

- LH

maybe a flat tax would be an improvement !

because as it is, corporate america is basically taking a pass on paying taxes these days:

The current study found that nearly one in three companies, or 82, of the 275 examined paid no federal income tax in at least one year from 2001 to 2003, the period covered by the study. In the period, 82 companies had pretax profit of $102 billion.

Last year, 46 of the 275 companies surveyed paid no federal income tax, up from 42 companies in 2002 and 33 in 2001, according to the study. Over all, the number of companies that paid no taxes increased 40 percent during the period.

wait, the last three years ? as in, since W. was elected and started rewriting tax policy ? must be a coincidence. . .

- LH

democrats cower, republicans watusi

one of the two parties enjoys congressional leadership that has, if nothing else, the courage of its convictions and a willingness to do what they believe, regardless of who it hurts and who it helps.

guess which one.

Putting aside efforts to control the federal deficit before the elections, Republican and Democratic leaders agreed Wednesday to extend $145 billion worth of tax cuts sought by President Bush without trying to pay for them . . . Democratic lawmakers abandoned efforts to pay for the measures by either imposing a surcharge on wealthy families or closing corporate tax shelters. "I wish we could pay for them, but this is a political problem and we have people up for re-election,'' said Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York, the senior Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee.

and . . .

House Republican conferees also rejected a proposed amendment by Senator Blanche Lincoln, Democrat of Arkansas, that would expand the number of poor families eligible for a refundable child tax credit. That measure would have cost $7 billion over 10 years. "The tax credit is for taxpayers,'' said Senator Don Nickles, Republican of Oklahoma. "If you want to change the welfare system, then change the welfare system.''

- LH

carmakers in denial

there's a reason i love bashing the car companies. they just make it so easy . . .

referring to a california effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions from cars by 30% over the next twelve years:

"They didn't identify any improvement in air quality or a single health benefit from this expensive regulation," said Gloria Bergquist, spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents Ford, BMW, Toyota and six other carmakers.

ignoring the fact that its hard to believe cutting NOx emissions has zero health benefits, this statement couldn't be less relevant. its like saying that because studies haven't shown any correlation with reduced cancer risks, you shouldn't brush your teeth. greenhouse gas reduction isn't about air quality and it isn't about health benefits. its about the climate and functional ecology of the entire damn planet ! automobiles are the second largest source of CO2 emissions in the US, pumping out 1.5 billion tons annually - but hey, can't we let them off the hook a few more decades ? what's the worst that could happen ?

- LH

UPDATE: the NYT hits this story here. as usual, the car companies are estimating this will cost as much as FIVE times the state's estimates. its like they just pulled out the old scripts and changed 'catalytic converters' and 'air bags' to 'greenhouse gas control measures' and called a press conference. let's hope noone buys it this time either.




the value of polling

with all the conflicting polls out there it's hard to know how this race is actually shaping up. i'm not a big fan of polling - i know just enough about statistics to feel confident that i have no idea which polls adhere to reasonable models and which ones are total hooey. kevin drum has a great post on the subject, discussing the increasing inaccuracy of polls and why the current notion of polling data may become obsolete.

What we're seeing this year may be the Cheynes-Stokes breathing of traditional polling models, and by 2008 the whole enterprise may either be dead or changed beyond recognition. In the meantime, though, we have the worst of all worlds: we're still relying on traditional polls even though the sample distortion is too large to be massaged away with fancy software, but we don't have new polling models to replace them yet.
In other words, we don't really know who's winning. Election day may turn out to be a real surprise.


- LH

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

just guessing

andrew sullivan links to some amazing comments by bush today

Bush also played down the significance of a CIA report forecasting more difficulty in Iraq. "The CIA laid out several scenarios and said life could be lousy, life could be okay, life could be better, and they were just guessing as to what the conditions might be like," he said. The confidential August report to policymakers, according to an administration official who described it yesterday, outlined three scenarios over the next 18 months: a period of "tenuous stability," a time of "further fragmentation and extremism" or a period of "trending to civil war."

just guessing. the CIA national intelligence council, but they're just guessing. but when the george tenet was telling him WMD's were a 'home run' now that, no guesswork in that . . .

- LH

no plans ? none at all ? not even maybe little tiny plans ?

i knew it sounded familiar.

the administration today:

"I'm not aware of any plans to attack Iran," he (Colin Powell) told reporters on the sidelines of the annual session of the UN General Assembly. "Every nation has all options available to it."

and just a little while back

President Bush: "And I told the Chancellor that I have no war plans on my desk, which is the truth, and that we've got to use all means at our disposal to deal with Saddam Hussein. "

draw your own conclusions.

- LH

iran, iran, and more iran !

pace yourself, take lots of deep breaths and breaks to walk around, but keep reading about iran. Because its only getting hotter and the problems aren’t solving themselves while bush tootles about flip-flops. Three worthwhile stops:

Iran is rolling on uranium enrichment. This does NOT mean they can produce nukes – it means that they will have everything in place to produce nukes if they choose to do so. Chilling, no doubt.

Iran has conflicting interests in Iraq. While one expert says ‘stability’ I say ‘influence’. Iran walks a tightrope between promoting the military strength of the shiite groups and ensuring that elections (which will surely be shiite dominated, particularly given the sunni insurgency) take place producing a ‘legitimate’ shiite-dominated, and thus iran-sympathetic, government. I’m not convinced that a stable Iraq is more attractive to the theocrats in teheran than a chaotic, high-maintenance Iraq that demands 99% of american military and diplomatic attention. The notion that Iran might be ‘blamed’ by washington for ongoing troubles seems absurd, and nearly moot given the increasing tensions. Even if it were true (and it almost certainly is to a degree) bush’s need to pin responsibility on someone who doesn’t work for him will undermine any credibility he might have. (thanks juan cole for the link)

Is there a reformist movement in iran ? there undoubtedly is. I'm not into 'blogosphere' pimping, but i have to believe that this kind of thing is symbolic of meaningful undercurrents of dissent. The delicacy is in finding a way for the US to support it without destroying its nationalist credentials.

- LH


arrest someone for plagiarism, if nothing else !

It all comes down to what you believe the fundamental role of government is relevant to corporate function. If you envision the entire federal, state and local regulatory system as a massive chamber of commerce, who’s only function is to ensure unfettered profit maximization and ever-greater stockholder value, then this administration is fulfilling your wildest dreams.

For the third time, environmental advocates have discovered passages in the Bush administration's proposal for regulating mercury pollution from power plants that mirror almost word for word portions of memos written by a law firm representing coal-fired power plants.

Conservatives argue that ‘well of course ! only people inside the industry can understand how to regulate themselves best !’ I feel the same way about crime; let’s have felons write sentencing guidelines eh ?

The reality is that industry has absolutely no interest in public health, the environment, or the havoc that mercury is wreaking in ecosystems and american citizen’s bodies right now. None. Their interest is in making money. It’s the government who we count on to protect us from these unseen sources of pollution. It’s the government who we count on to do protect our lakes, rivers and waterways, if not our children. And if we allow the government to hand over the responsibility for that protection to the polluters and their lackeys, then we have only ourselves to blame.

- LH


the bush response

readers of this site know i've spent the last week or so enjoying the new kerry message and expressing my optimism about the 'voice' that's emerging. reading the paper this morning i couldn't help but feel that the proverbial tango has its two:

Tuesday, Bush said Kerry "has taken so many different positions on Iraq that his statements are hardly credible at all."

this is the extent of the bush response to kerry's series of attacks and critiques of the iraq policy. kerry says 'mismanagement' they say 'flip-flop'. kerry says 'incompetence' they say 'flip-flop'. kerry says 'wasted opportunity' they say 'flip-flop'. dazzled by their consistency i may be, but if this is the best they can do, i'm tickled pink. the 'flip-flop' label is troubling, but it's not much of an answer to the kind of incisive critique kerry is laying down - certainly not when the news from iraq, and the president's own national intelligence council predicts further chaos and drastic problems. moreover, i can't help but feel that the flip-flop attack has run it's course. the public attention span for even a negative characterization is short - ok, he's a flip-flopper, but he's making sense on iraq . . .

i wont underestimate karl rove. something is headed our way to take the focus off of iraq. but today is a good day.

- LH

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

if not me, them ! and if not now, 1941 !

i know even indulging john leo is nothing but an exercise in frustration, but sometimes i can't resist. today he joins fellow fascist michelle malkin to burn some fraction of my daily 'news'paper with revisionism on one of those morally-cloudy gray areas that most of us just can't come to a firm conclusion about ethically, the ww2-era internment of japanese-americans.

leo's piece is so densely packed with dishonesty and fiction that i can't bring myself to deconstruct too deeply. but my favorites:

Though the U.S. intelligence community knew that the vast majority of ethnic Japanese in America were no threat, it also knew that the Japanese government was beaming messages of ultranationalism, sometimes calling on Nisei to return to Japan for political or military training -- the madrasahs of the day. A secret U.S. government estimate said perhaps 3,500 ethnic Japanese in America were active supporters of the Japanese war effort.

i cant but wonder if this estimate came before or after pearl harbor, when japanese imperialism was hardly anti-american in nature. regardless, even unsubtly comparing japanese citizens living in americans to islamic fundamentalists doesn't change the numbers. over 120,000 americans were moved to concentration camps so the government could keep an eye on 3500 people who had committed no crime ? that's like rounding up every voter in the country on nov. 1 to make sure you've neutralized the naderheads.

The U.S. government assumed, or hoped, that evacuees would find suitable jobs and homes in the interior, but only 5,000 to 10,000 did. The camps were set up when most evacuees either couldn't or wouldn't move east on their own.
unbelievable. message: 'you see liberals, we tried to be nice to the 'enemy' and allow them to voluntarily abandon every single one of their constitutional rights, but they INSISTED on being uncooperative. and even after all that ingraciousness, the internment camps were really just a federal jobs/public housing program. you lefties should love this stuff !'

Malkin's point is that if the threat to the survival of America is severe enough, some civil liberties must yield. She is right that the internment issue is currently being wielded as a club to prevent reasonable extra scrutiny of suspect Arabs and Muslims. But the twin towers were not brought down by militant Swedish nuns. It is always reasonable to look in the direction from which the gravest danger is coming.

which apparently, to leo, is anyone who looks different or worships a different god than he does. keep looking john, you'll find someone to call 'enemy' eventually.

- LH

nader and the ballot

it saddens me that the democrats have stooped to trying to keep ralph nader off the ballot in november.

not as much as it saddens me that a man who was once a giant among progressives and a bastion of intellectual courage has humiliated himself repeatedly to stroke some kind of massive ego-demands. not as much as it shocks me that there are actually american voters who choose to defecate on their responsibility to the direction of this country so as to consider voting for him in this election. and not so much as it crushes me that those votes may once again profoundly influence the outcome on nov. 2.

but its still sad. we should never be a party that seeks to limit the voters choices or stifle debate. nader has a right to run, and people have a right to give him their vote. no matter how sad the consequences of those rights might be.

- LH

UPDATE: i can't decide what i think about these nader voters. i mean, do i really think that 2% of voters in florida are left-wing radical socialists who can't discern between bush and kerry ? by definition, these people are politically engaged enough to understand the functional choices in this election. they can't really think that their 'protest vote' will be anything but political martyrdom. so maybe the naderheads are right - these are people who are outside the system and otherwise wouldn't even show up. if that's true, however, then why are they considered 'likely voters' and polled at all ? i'm assuming a 'likely voter' is someone who voted last time, and thus these are the remaining nader voters from 2000 who are still on the bus. i just don't know what to think.

its time to start paying attention

because the neo-cons have learned NOTHING from iraq and they're ready to do it all over again.

With Iran policy in a state of flux, there is a drive among conservatives to reach out to Iranian dissidents and exiles seeking to overthrow the government, much as efforts were made with Iraqis in the 1990's. Senator Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican, is sponsoring legislation favoring "regime change," with what some say is the tacit backing of administration conservatives.

regime change itself is a valid goal in iran. regime removal and replacement, which is what santorum and his clones really mean, is a dangerous delusion. we, and perhaps the majority of iranians, would love to see that nation return to constitutionalism and democracy. i say 'return' because of course, that's what iran had in the early 1950's before the United States government toppled Mohammed Mossadeq and re-installed the shah. iranians know this even if americans don't, and they've never forgiven the US. which means that any 'reaching out' to anti-government movements has to be utterly and totally covert. the first sign of a reformist movement being attached to, supported by, or even viewed positively by, the US, is a political death sentence.

- LH

david brooks is a spectacular ass

you'd think that if the NYT was serious about having a conservative viewpoint represented, they'd find someone a bit more capable of complex thought than david brooks. today's column is breathtaking in its intellectual inadequacy. happily, it represents the ultimate conservative instinct in this campaign - dumb things down until they can't get any dumber.

brooks takes on kerry's speech yesterday, which was in my opinion, outstanding. talkingpoints memo writes brilliantly on the false duality (status quo vs. immediate retreat) that brooks manufactures. brooksie wastes a few column-inches feigning objectivity and showering kerry with backhanded compliments, but by the end he can't resist humiliating himself:

Substantively, of course, Kerry's speech is completely irresponsible. In the first place, there is a 99 percent chance that other nations will not contribute enough troops to significantly decrease the U.S. burden in Iraq. In that case, John Kerry has no Iraq policy. The promise to bring some troops home by summer will be exposed as a Disneyesque fantasy.

substantively, of course, the entire war was completely irresponsible. bush had NO plan for what would take place post-saddam, and instead embraced an ideological fantasy of harmonious iraqi democracy blooming. in fact, he CONTINUES to do so. disneyesque doesn't begin to adequately capture the level of delusion and denial required to believe that the USA could invade an islamic middle eastern nation, occupy its soil, and convince three disparate ethno-religous groups to share power after decades of internecine warfare. now, maybe brooks is right that there's a 99% chance we wont get international help with kerry in power; but the chances right now are a solid and unwavering 100%.

More to the point, Kerry is trying to use multilateralism as a gloss for retreat. If "the world" is going to be responsible for defeating Moktada al-Sadr and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, then no one will be responsible for defeating them. The consequences for the people of Iraq and the region will be horrific.

this logic is startling. by its extension (if more than one nation is responsible, none are responsible) the entire notion of 'multilateralism' is both moot and non-existent. i cant decide whats more intellectually bankrupt - the idea that multilateralizing a conflict is equivalent to abandoning responsibility, or the threat about horrific consequences. i'm guessing brooks hasnt spent enough time outside the green zone to understand what horrific means to ordinary iraqis who are afraid to leave their houses and have been for months.

Finally, if the whole war is a mistake, shouldn't we stop fighting tomorrow? What do you say to the last man to die for a "profound diversion"?

and the bold denoument . . . conservatism at its finest. and this is the classic. because as my colleague MB so often puts it, its republicans who make messes and democrats who clean them up. mr. brooks, the war was a mistake, and it was a "profound diversion". but this nation allowed its president to undertake it, and we now bear responsibility for its resolution. perhaps we shouldn't stop fighting tomorrow, but we damn well better get serious about doing something OTHER than fighting as well. because fighting alone (the bush plan) has been a spectacular failure.

to the last man to die for a 'profound diversion' i say: 'this country made a mistake. maybe for the right reasons, maybe for the wrong reasons. but americans take responsibility for our decisions, and we take responsibility for our mistakes. we're doing our best to make things right in iraq. we honor your sacrifice.'

- LH

Monday, September 20, 2004

the essence

john kerry reminding us of the opportunity cost:

Think about it for a minute. Consider where we were… and where we are. After the events of September 11, we had an opportunity to bring our country and the world together in the struggle against the terrorists. On September 12th, headlines in newspapers abroad declared “we are all Americans now.” But through his policy in Iraq, the President squandered that moment and rather than isolating the terrorists, left America isolated from the world.

a great speech today. kerry has found his voice, just in time.

- LH

the options are all bad

kevin drum on robert novak's explosive column today.

You see, it's a choice between two implicit lies:
Option 1: Because there's a presidential election coming up, Bush is claiming he'll stay the course. Gotta look resolute, after all. But Novak is right: it's just a sham, and as soon as some travesty of an election gives him an excuse, he'll leave and let Iraq turn into chaos.
Option 2: Because there's a presidential election coming up, Bush is claiming to have a plan to stabilize Iraq and withdraw. Can't look like a warmonger, after all. But in reality he considers Iraq a strategic beachhead in the Middle East and has no intention of ever leaving, come what may.
You see my problem? There are people who want to believe both these things, and Bush's team has every incentive to make sure each faction believes that Bush agrees with them. He's lying to one of them, but which one?

and this is the big unmentionable in this campaign. iraq is a problem with no solution. the left KNEW this before the war and shouted it from the rooftops. there simply is no way for a foreign power to invade this country and remake it in some alternative image. the functional realities of islamic fundamentalism combined with ethnic rivalry in that nation made it IMPOSSIBLE from the get-go.

john kerry knows this, and he knows that there are no good solutions when he takes office. i'm sure that's why he's reluctant to committ to any of them, because they're all crap.

so this election is very simple really. president bush has made a stunning, spectacular mistake. its tempting to remove him from office simply as punishment. but the more urgent, pressing need is to get him out before he does it AGAIN . . .

- LH

Sure, Feldman is more talented...

Listen LH, the only reason I'm currently a "Haim man" is that your man, Feldman, is STILL refusing to participate in the "Dream a little dream" prequel. I mean, what's it going to take to bring Haim and Feldman back together?!? I've always believed that Feldman had more talent than Haim, but what good is that talent if he's not going to use it? DALD 2 has comeback vehicle written all over it. What's the problem?

-MB

Skirmish of Ideas!

So in a few short weeks Thomas Friedman should be back writing his column for the Nytimes. Friedman is a great columnist, and his Israeli commentary is absolutely must read, but the sad fact is that his reputation has taking a serious beating with his writing related to the war in Iraq. Friedman was an early and vocal, and most importantly, liberal supporter of the war. He's been spouting his "war of ideas" for a long time and the war in Iraq was finally going to put his idea war to the test. Friedman stuck it out for a while, but last summer, Friedman finally decided writing about his doubts.

Friedman has been writing a book for several months now and I'm sure he has a lot to catch up with, with the Presidential campaign raging on. But if I know Friedman, I'm sure he's going to attempt a few, last gasp columns saying the situation in Iraq is still salvageable, if only we would do X, Y, and Z. But if we don't do that soon, we will certainly lose this war. Friedman said this six months ago. He keeps saying this, that somehow, just around the corner, if we simply do things the right way, Iraq won't slip into chaos.

Well, I don't buy it. My advice to Friedman (and I'm guessing he's a regular Dome reader) for his first column is to say that Bush has basically blown it. The war is lost and Bush's incompetence made a difficult situation impossible. He needs to say the only hope is for Bush to be punished by being voted out of office, only then, with a fresh start, can we start anew in Iraq. His second column should focus on what Kerry should do in Iraq if he becomes President. He should forget saying how Kerry might still pull it off. It's too late. He needs to advise Kerry on how the US should respond to the Middle East with Iraq completely in chaos. The Israeli-Palestinian issue should be his top priority and it might be one of the only ways America can begin to piece together our shattered reputation in that region.

I really hope Friedman is past this 'war of ideas' nonsense and he begins writing about what the Middle East will be like with Iraq as the chaotic and unsalvageable mess that it is. There will be severe consequences, completely unpredictable (see long term consequences of the CIA sponsored coup in Iran in 1953 as an example), arising from the situation in Iraq. Maybe Friedman can help us anticipate some of these problems so we can begin to contain them, if we can.

-MB

Sunday, September 19, 2004

A long time ago. . .

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. . . Star Wars use to be something special. It's only with bittersweet nostalgia that I get even mildly excited with the news that the original Star Wars trilogy was released on DVD this past week. Fans have been waiting forever for Lucas to release this on the higher quality DVD format. I was watching a commercial and I couldn't but help get a few goosebumps thinking about what these movies once meant for me. That is, until Lucas unleashed the prequels, and my warm, cuddly feelings toward SW forever disappeared. It's not a pleasant thing to have such a positive childhood memory utterly obliterated, but that's exactly what Lucas did with these prequels.

Sure, I was interested as the next person in the Star Wars backstory, but what I wasn't expecting was the crap that came out. Both the Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones are virtually unwatchable. I still can't understand why Lucas decided to direct these movies and not farm them out to some high profile directors (Speilberg, James Cameron, David Finch, even Michael Bay would've been better!!). Instead, Lucas takes the reins and his approach is akin to someone developing a video game. For Lucas, the public is no longer comprised of fans, but of consumers, and the product is created accordingly.

Well, I can't lie, it was exciting to see scenes from the old movies: the AT-AT walkers; the millennium falcon; lando; and of course the brooding Darth Vader. But even Darth is not as menacing as he once was. How could he be? As he's lifting the rebel soldier off the ground, choking him, in the opening scene of A New Hope, we come to the horrible realization that this evil villain was once called "Annie."

-MB

Insurgent Strategy

It’s still very difficult to get a sense of what the situation is really like on the ground in Iraq. Obviously, at the moment, you can objectively say things are not going well, but is it really as chaotic as the media is currently making it out to be? I've been following the war as best I can via the Internet, but obviously that still has its limitations. Juan Cole is providing some of the best analysis, but I'm just comparing his site with other news sources, without really knowing if any of them are getting it right.

What I find most vexing is trying to figure out who the insurgents really are. Is it mainly former Baathists? Is it foreign Islamic radicals infiltrating the country? Are the Shia participating on a much larger scale than anyone wants to admit? Or is it a combination? I have yet to read any compelling analysis that attempts to explain who the insurgents are and what their goals are. The default answer seems to be to end the American occupation, and of course, send us packing in humiliating defeat. I'm sure that's a goal for most of the insurgents, but I'm sensing there is more strategy at play than a simple American defeat. It seems the bulk of the attacks, at least the most lethal ones, are targeted against Iraqis cooperating with the Americans, and specifically, any Iraqis attempting to join the new Iraqi police force. I'm sure the insurgents would like to inflict more damage against the Americans, but that target fights back, and it's much more difficult to attack. But I think targeting Iraqi army recruits is their primary goal. These insurgents aren't stupid. They know the US is going to leave eventually, most likely sooner, rather than later, and their most likely enemy after we leave will be the new Iraqi army. They only have to look at Saddam's old security forces to figure out how Iraq will be governed. If a new Iraqi army is allowed to form, it will consolidate power and most likely rule as harshly as Saddam, leaving those not part of the new power structure at the mercy, and exploitation of this new government. I'm sure the Kurds are watching this closely. When the Americans leave, they will be at the mercy of this new government, and there's every reason to believe they'll be vulnerable to a hostile government.

Attacking the American military certainly is a primary goal for the insurgents, but many of them must be looking ahead to an inevitable post-occupation Iraq, and the control of the Iraqi army will be the key to controlling the country.

-MB

UPDATE: This story came out a day after this blog. Basically a summary of how difficult it's been to form an Iraqi army and what role they might play in securing the peace. Allawi's - the interim Prime Minister - ominous quotes provide insight on what we can expect from this new Iraq army.

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/20/politics/20army.html?hp



Friday, September 17, 2004

kerry coming on strong

there's nothing the 'liberal' media loves to do more than mock democrats inability to campaign as effectively and brutally as the republicans. there's an ongoing pressure to be more critical, more cynical, more pessimistic - mainly about the kerry campaign staff's competence, its message, and above all the candidate himself.

but kerry has found a new voice since the GOP convention, and it's speaking clearly. the polls say this man is losing, but i can accept that. in 2000 we all believed that, if only gore had run a better campaign (or post-campaign) america would have responded. well, kerry is out there saying this like this:

"With all due respect to the president, has he turned on the evening news lately? Does he read the newspapers?" Kerry said. "Does he really know what's happening? Is he talking about the same war that the rest of us are talking about?"

if america chooses bush after kerry runs a campaign thats this honest and straightforward, this direct and this clear, then that's their (our) choice. we'll live with the consequences. but i'm proud of kerry the candidate today.

- LH



a new hope

well, the last key endorsement of the presidential campaign has finally been made.

my colleague master blaster has always been more of a 'haim' man but i think this political statement vindicates the faith i've had in 'the thinking man's corey' all along. with feldman on board, i expect that
gallup poll to be turned upside down within days.

we'll update our readers when coreys upcoming solo album is released (as if you won't already know) . . .

- LH

radicalism behind the scenes

when liberals talk about bush administration radicalism, they're usually referring to big-ticket items: iraq, USA-PATRIOT, the tax cuts, etc... but a huge portion of the action, and some of the most damaging, is happening beneath the radar in the federal rulemaking and enforcement arenas.

”Since 2001, key regulatory plans have been abandoned, and those few major rules that have been undertaken favour corporate over public interests,” said Gary Bass, OMB Watch executive director. ”Statistics show a pattern of neglect, but not how the few rules being done decidedly favour industry.”

the GOP agenda is about more than 'streamlining' and reducing government waste. its about unfettered corporate will and incapacitating the government's ability to meaningfully protect the rights and health of the citizenry. when a republican president is tossing aside rules from the reagan and bush 1 administrations, you know it's a whole new world.

- LH


UPDATE: contrast the OMB Watch report with this release from jim mcgreevey, gov. of new jersey. sure, the guy is resigning in shame, but not without leaving a legacy of leadership on environmental issues. while bush is busy trying to drag america back to the 1940's, democrats are preparing for the future that will be, not the future that never was.

- LH

will putin choose peace or power ?

frederick starr has a fascinating and hopeful post in the wapost today discussing the framework of a peace plan for chechnya. putin's response to beslan has made it clear that his interest in that conflict is first and foremost as a rationale for a long-term consolidation of power and erosion of democratic instituitions; this column illustrates that there is, and was, another way. starr notes that both chechens and russians envision a solution involving a largely autonomous state within russia, and an end to a war from which neither side benefits on any level.

It is no secret that there are terrorists among revenge-seeking Chechens and that there are radical Islamists among the desperate population of that land. But if Putin persists in painting all Chechens with the same brush of terrorism and Wahhabism, he will block the only remaining path to a peaceful solution and deny Russians and Chechens the only approach known to have the support of responsible figures on both sides.

200,000 Chechens dead; an estimated 25% of their population. . .

- LH

UPDATE: david ignatius takes on the same topic but arrives at an odd conclusion:

Westerners like to believe that democracy and free markets go hand in hand. That optimism should have been tempered by China, which is becoming a global economic powerhouse even as the Communist Party keeps a lid on political expression. And now there is Putin's Russia, which seems to be following a Chinese path. What should the West do about Putin's putsch? The right model, many analysts would argue, is U.S. policy toward China. In dealing with Beijing, the United States is clear about its values -- condemning human rights violations and advocating democratic reforms. But at the same time it maintains an economic relationship that, over time, is making China richer and eventually freer. The same process should happen with Russia, and an attempt to isolate and punish Putin would almost certainly backfire.

so even though our priorities - democratization and human rights - are essentially comatose in china, that's the model we should follow in dealing with russia ? i'm not 100% certain ignatius is wrong about punishment for putin backfiring, but that notion deserves a bit more elaboration than a throwaway dismissal . . .

- LH

the road map, balled up and stuffed in the trunk

At some point in the war on terror, serious leadership will emerge in the US that’s ready to deal with the metaphorical diseases and wounds inflicting the global corporeal, rather than the symptoms. That administration will commit itself to healing conflicts and risk its political capital, leveraging world support and sympathy for the fight against terrorism. They may not begin in Palestine, but they will not be finished until that festering, infected sore on the geopolitical body is repaired.

Ariel Sharon has essentially dismissed the ‘road map’ as he pursues his gaza withdrawal plan. Fine. The road map, to the follow an already strained metaphor, is like a desperately ill patient explaining ‘don’t worry, I’m taking a multivitamin every day.’ It is nothing more than a placeholder for all parties; an empty answer to global questions about the future. President bush has no commitment to moving parties down the road; Sharon and Arafat have been equally happy to bind themselves to the road map in lieu of actual progress on peace.


sharon will move forward with his withdrawal plan; political and demographic pressures in gaza make that phase of it entirely sensible. the west bank is a different story, but the gaza activity is buying time for more and more of the border wall to be constructed. the left finds itself conflicted - the gaza policy is a dream come true; but consolidation in the west bank, with the support of president bush, portends a future of continued disease and sickness in the holy land.

- LH

could they paint a more obvious bullseye ?

i know i'm just a bleeding heart quasi-socialist liberal who's ideas and concerns can and should be dismissed by serious policymakers in our nation's capital and elsewhere, but i must admit to finding it just a little bit insane that in the post-9/11 world nuclear plant safety remains somehow a controversial issue. industry retains a near-strangehold on decision-making about security - given that we KNOW al quaeda had already designated nuke plants as targets for the original 9/11 plan, wouldn't one think this would be a no-brainer ?

maybe a crashing plane is highly unlikely to cause a radiation catastrophe. highly unlikely is very different than 'can't'. but we're talking about radioactive cloud that could make an area the size of PENNSYLVANIA uninhabitable for centuries people. seems like the nuke industry could be just a bit accomodating, no ?

- LH

et tu, conservative ?

when even your republican buddies are disgusted by your environmental record, maybe its time for a long look in the mirror ?

- LH

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Electoral Revolution

It's incredibly frustrating to know that the Southeast has such a massive influence on national politics. I was looking at the electoral college map at http://www.electoral-vote.com/ and it's just shocking to see all the red (representing Bush leaning states) in the deep south. The only reason Bush has any shot at the Presidency is by his support in this region. There are significant swaths of red out west, but the total number of electoral votes out there is almost meaningless. It's the south that currently sustains the Republican party.

And I think it’s absolutely ridiculous for a backward region like the south to dictate national politics, so that's why I am suggesting a radical overhaul of the electoral college system.

The president is elected by when he/she receives 270 electoral votes. Each state is entitled to a number of electors equal to that state's representation in Congress (Senate + House). A lot of people are arguing we should shift to a popular vote system. It's difficult to argue against this position, when you think of the 2000 election, but I think there is some value to the electoral system, although I recommend some major changes.

Instead of determining a state's electoral votes by house and senate representation, we should base it on social and economic indicators in the states. Here's what I mean. To keep it simple, we'll stick to a small number of indicators, maybe 10-15. I'm not going to suggest the formula here, but in a nutshell, the better these indicators, the more electoral votes you get. You would start from the original number, so Georgia currently has 15 electoral votes, but depending on how it ranks out, it might get 20, or it might only get 10. But the TOTAL number of electoral votes eligible nationally, 535, would stay the same.

My suggestions for indicators are as follows: spending on education; children in poverty; rates of health insurance (or lack thereof); divorce rates; spending on teacher salaries; SAT rankings; incarceration rates, and so on. I would like to see something like percent of state land protected for conservation, but that would be a useless statistic since many western states are predominantly owned by the federal government, so in no way does that reflect state government priorities.

Why should the South, which is so backward on so many issues, have such a disproportionate influence on national polices? Let's not beat around the bush here, the Southeast has terrible values. They rank near the bottom on just about all of these indicators. They talk a good game about family values, but that's all it is, talk. Do a little research on these indicators and you'll see the Southeast OWNS the bottom of these rankings. They’re like the 1980s Buccaneers. And the beauty of it, is if you look at Massachusetts, it ranks near the top in all of these indicators. I would also suggest including as an indicator the amount of federal taxes a state gives to the federal government versus the amount they receive back. A state like Alaska might be reduced to 1 electoral vote if we only used that standard.

The SE likes to lecture the rest of the country about morality, and specifically, marriage. They're the ones who are behind this marriage amendment. Well, take a look at the figures, Massachusetts has the lowest divorce rate in the country, and just about every SE state has a divorce rate higher than the national average.

But before you think this is designed to overwhelming elect a democrat, take another look at the stats. California is light years ahead of the rest of the country on a variety of issues, but it has to deal with such a large population, that it tends to rank low on some of these major indicators, so it would probably not gain many electoral points at all. It has a massive immigrant population and its lower rankings on the health and education indicators reflect this. But in defense of California, Texas is in the same situation with a large immigrant population, but Cali has been much more aggressive in taken care of it's citizen. You could say they're value driven, as opposed to the Texas' neglect model.

But overall, it wouldn't be completely skewed toward the Democrats, but it would increase the influence of the states that are serious about governing. If a state receives fewer electoral votes than it normally would, there's no reason why it couldn't improve these indicators and move back up the rankings. It'll be completely up to the individual states to determine if they value receiving more electoral votes. If they don't, and they want to stay mired in their own poor governance, the rest of the country doesn't have to suffer the consequences of these poor performing states' undue influence in Presidential elections. The southeast model of state governing is morally bankrupt, so why should the rest of the country suffer for it?

It’d be simpler to do than you think. Ok, any chance a Republican congress following through on my vision?

-MB